Grand Slam final debutant Sofia Kenin conjured a captivating 4-6 6-2 6-2 comeback to defeat Garbine Muguruza to lift her maiden major title in the women’s singles final of Australian Open 2020 on Saturday night.
The 21-year-old American, the youngest Australian Open finalist since Maria Sharapova won in 2008, overturned the two-time Grand Slam champion with fearless striking after dropping the opening set.
From relatively under the radar a fortnight ago, Kenin’s “can do” attitude has launched her into the top 10 as a major champion, and become the leading light in American tennis.
Having been passed the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy by compatriot and 2000 Melbourne Park champion Lindsay Davenport, Kenin took to the microphone at Rod Laver Arena.
“I just want to say that my dream has officially true, I can’t even describe this feeling,” said Kenin, writing herself into Grand Slam history in just her 12th main draw.
“It’s so emotional and I’ve worked so hard and I’m just so grateful to be standing here.
“Dreams come true, so if you have one, go for it.
“These past two weeks have been the best of my life. I have to thank the crowd, thank you so much from the bottom of my heart.
“Last but not least I want to thank my team,” added Kenin, with her coach and father Alex recording the proud moment on his phone.
“My dad, everyone there, thank you for making this possible. I can’t believe we’re here today, we all worked so hard and I’m just so grateful.”
Kenin started brightly, clipping four drop shots in opening three games to test the impeccable Muguruza movement.
However, Muguruza was utilising her transition game to apply the pressure in the third game. A forehand drive volley, complemented by a piercing winner off each groundstroke wing, earned break opportunities.
Kenin cracked at the third chance and Muguruza posted a 2-1 break lead. A brace of double faults didn’t help the Spaniard’s cause, before the 26-year-old consolidated her advantage with ferocious force, depth and precision.
World No.15 Kenin was still probing, but any sniff of passive play and two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza was ready to sweep it away. Three successive winners saw Muguruza in command at 4-2.
The American, with the stars and stripes emblazoned on her racquet, lashed a wrong-footing forehand and canny drop shot to remain in touch. The 21-year-old was level having capitalised upon a loose game from Muguruza.
With 10 successful surges to the net out of 14 in the opener, Muguruza was able to instantly respond by charging forward with two games and a step towards the title.
Kenin, the conqueror of teenage sensation Coco Gauff and world No.1 Ash Barty en route to the final, prevailed in the only previous meeting between the pair in Beijing last year over a three-set battle, and would need to go the distance again.
The No.14 seed re-ignited her challenge with a first-strike 3-1 break lead.
It was a case of lockdown from Kenin, surrendering just three errors in a compelling display of efficiency in the second set. A hip-height backhand return winner scorched into the corner, showing Kenin’s soaring confidence, and the finale was taken into a decider.
World No.32 Muguruza turned up the heat with consecutive holds to love, with the duo locked at two apiece.
Then Kenin made her major move.
The No.14 seed recovered from 0-40 down in a scintillating spell of play. Three successive winners down the line, an ace and a passing shot snatched away the momentum in style.
The Spaniard was struggling to keep pace and when a backhand scooped long, before an untimely double fault, Kenin had the crucial and telling 4-2 advantage.
A little after two hours on the clock, the 21-year-old dropped her racquet in disbelief and the tears began to flow.
Muguruza, struggling to contain the tears too, was gracious in defeat.
“Congratulations Sofia, you played an incredible match, an incredible tournament. You deserve the trophy,” stated the Spaniard, who will return to the top 20 after a fabulous on-court fortnight.
“I think we are going to see you in more final like this for sure.
“I have to thank my team, I wouldn’t be back here without them and they were over there suffering with me today … Thank you (coach) Conchita (Martinez) for helping me reach another Grand Slam final.
“I have to say it’s incredible playing out here in this environment, this court brings an energy, the crowd is what makes this special.”