Kenin holds nerve to crush Barty dreams

  • David Cox

Sofia Kenin broke the hearts of a nation after holding her nerve to end Ash Barty’s dreams of Australian Open glory, taking out the top seed 7-6(6) 7-5 in a nail-biting semifinal.

Barty - who was bidding to become the first women’s Australian Open finalist since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 and the first to do so since the tournament moved to Melbourne Park - had coped admirably with the pressure all fortnight, but in Kenin she was up against a fearless 21-year-old who looks set to become one of the game’s new stars.

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Kenin is enjoying a superb tournament, and she had already shown the ability to deal with a big occasion when she knocked Coco Gauff out in the fourth round. She will now look forward to a first Grand Slam final and a place in the top 10 when the tournament ends.

"It's a dream come true for me," said Kenin.

"It's surreal. I always believed I can. I didn't know exactly when. I feel like at this young age, I think it's incredible. Not everyone gets to live this moment, live this dream. I'm just really grateful for it."

Nevertheless, this is a match which Barty and her team will look back on with plenty of cause for regret. While Kenin battled tenaciously from the back of the court, for much of the contest Barty appeared to be more than a match for the young American with her variety, nimble court coverage, and her ability to unleash forehand winners from almost anywhere.

With temperatures soaring to 38 degrees, the conditions appeared to suit Barty’s game, her slices zipping off the court and the ball travelling a little faster through the warm air. Both sets seemed to be on her racquet – she had three break points on the Kenin serve in the first set compared to none from the American – but when it came to the crunch, her composure too often deserted her.

She led 6-4 in the first-set tiebreak before a nervy miss and a sublime forehand pass from the American brought things back on level terms. That seemed to inspire Kenin who promptly reeled off two more points to clinch the set.

"I believed I could win even though I had two set points down in the first," said Kenin.

"I was telling myself, 'I believe in myself. If I lose the set, I'm still going to come out and believe'. Of course, some things didn't go my way with the challenges and some great shots she came up with. But I didn't let that stop me. I knew I needed to serve well. I feel like I had a clear mindset on how I want to play her."

Ash Barty looks on during the semifinal

Still the top seed steadied herself amid desperate screams of ‘Come on Barty’ around Rod Laver Arena. She broke at the start of the second and after establishing a 3-1 lead, the confidence was back in her game.

But at 5-4, the demons returned. Serving to take the match to a decider, Barty swiftly established two set points only to see both go begging. Kenin sensed her opponent’s vulnerability, setting up break point with a spectacular running backhand pass before levelling things up at 5-5 as Barty dumped a drive volley into the net.

From there Barty only won two more points. Kenin held to love and then tore into her opponent’s wilting serve once more. Barty gave her fans brief hope of a spectacular revival as she saved one match point with a crunching forehand winner, but then another drifted long, and the party was over for another year.

"She's such a tough player," said Kenin.

"Of course, I'd like to first apologise to all of the Australian fans. I know they wanted her to win. It's not easy for them. There was some interesting cheers. I liked it. But it wasn't for me. I just try to lock it out and focus on each point."