She never doubted herself and made them all believers. With nerves and a sense of tennis that brought her 21 years into disrepute, Sofia Kenin battled Garbine Muguruza 4: 6: 6: 2: 6: 2 and won the Australian Open title on her debut in the Grand Slam final,
“My dream officially came true,” said Kenin before accepting Lindsay Davenport’s Daphne Ackhurst Trophy. “I am so emotional. I worked so hard. It was the best two weeks of my life. “
It was a fitting, fantastic finale to end a two-week odyssey for Kenin. On her way to the title, she met players who should make headlines in her place. In round four, she beat fellow countryman Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old who had ended the run of defending champion Naomi Osaka.
In the quarterfinals, she ended Ons Jabeur’s inspiring, inspired run that went further than any other Tunisian and Arab woman in a major at Melbourne Park. In the semifinals, she prevailed against the world’s number 1, Ashleigh Barty, and put an end to hopes for the first Australian winner since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
The final, however, was only about Kenin. It was a story of two comebacks in the match against Muguruza, one combining the greater influence of the other to trigger the first win after Victoria Azarenka’s win against Li Na in 2013 in the women’s final at Melbourne Park.
At 2-2 in the third set, she followed the two-time former Grand Slam champion 0:40 on her serve. The Spaniard had dictated in the opening sentence behind the insured net game that led them to the final, and Kenin had wavered between mistakes and short balls to be hit.
Kenin had found her reach in the second set and wanted her shots to flow back into the match, only to lose sight of the run of a crucial pause. She didn’t flinch: three nervous down-the-line rides saved the danger before a cross-court pass, her fifth consecutive winner, sealed the critical stop.
“I knew I had to take my chance,” said Kenin. “I had to be brave to play a two-time Grand Slam champion. Respect for her. You played a very tough match. Every point, it was such a struggle. A lot of movement, a lot of emotions on both sides. I knew I had to take the five best shots of my life. “
Muguruza, who failed to win another game when their swaying serve slumped late, hit the setback hard. A double mistake in Kenin’s second championship point – her eighth of the game – sealed the Spaniard’s fate. Despite the myriad of positive results from a tournament where she was not sown and recovered from a virus, it will be a serious loss she will have to cope with.
“The way she handled the breakpoints and game points, those kinds of moments, I think she won with wins, which is a difficult moment,” said Muguruza. “I think she played very well. It’s her first grand slam final for her and she’s done really well. “
Only in victory did Kenin seem to be struck by unbelief. When she kept saying “Oh my god” while waving to fans and celebrating with her father and team, her acceptance speech was a flood of thanks, not least to her mother at home in the United States, to whom her parents returned were from their adopted country shortly before his birth before returning to the United States a few months later.
“I called her right after the game to tell her everything was fine. I won. She can just relax now,” said Kenin. “She was really stressed out at home, very superstitious. Yes, she is just very happy. I told her I wouldn’t be able to talk to you for hours, but at least you know I won. I’m coming home, you can give me the biggest hug of your life. “
Kenin is the 11th and 4th of the 12 Grand Slam Masters won over the last 18 majors to win a title at the age of 21 or younger, along with Jelena Ostapenko and Naomi Osaka – their breakthrough in Aged 20 in Paris and New York – and Bianca Andreescu, last year crowned US Open champion at 19.
Like reigning Grand Slam masters Barty and Simona Halep, who was ousted by Muguruza in the semifinals, Kenin is far from being the biggest player on tour, which is contrary to Muguruza. But their game is based on energy, intensity and tactical problem solving, paired with a safe, clean ball hit. Of her 23 casual mistakes in the course of the 123-minute competition, 15 came in the opening set.
“I feel that mental toughness has played a big role,” said Kenin. “I’ve worked on that over the years. Yes, it only pays off.
“I played in big stadiums. I feel like that helped me get where I am right now. I love the big stages. I play there. I play to play on this great stage and I have this incredible atmosphere. It was an exciting atmosphere. Everyone just cheered. It’s just such an honor. You make it so fun for me to play. It gives me hype and more motivation to keep going.
“I’ve made so many fans,” she added with a smile. “Thank you for coming and supporting me in the past two weeks. It was an incredible journey for me. “
The action on Saturday at the Rod Laver Arena ended with the mixed double final, in which Nikola Mektic and Barbora Krejcikova defeated Jamie Murray and Bethanie Mattek-Sands with 5: 7: 6: 4 [10: 1].