ohnThe Australian Open women’s singles final could be the most surprising line-up amongst all the years, but it boasts a match-up between two in-form, incredibly-talented players Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza, who are both into their first Australian Open final. Not many would have predicted this clash before the fortnight, but as the tournament progressed, both Kenin and Muguruza proved their abilities and were deserving of their place in the final.
It was a big breakthrough for both players, though for different reasons. This is Kenin’s first Major final of her career while Muguruza was out-of-sorts throughout the past couple of years, but reunited with Conchita Martinez as her coach and is the first unseeded player to make the Melbourne final since 2007.
Their impressive runs will see both players experience a leap in the rankings, with Kenin set to make her top-10 debut while Muguruza will return into the top-20 after a brief drop from the top ranks. There are many achievements at stake on Saturday — a first Australian Open title for either, 4.12 million AUD worth of prize money and the top spot in the latest Porsche Race to Shenzhen rankings.
Road to the final: Kenin
Kenin came into the tournament as the 14th seed and this run timely provided herself with some cushion in the battle for an Olympic place within the American players. She was flying under the radar throughout her career and rightfully proved why she deserved the limelight with this impressive run which featured just one dropped set.
Her run started with back-to-back wins over qualifiers, losing just a total of 10 games in the process. Kenin’s first big test came against the in-form Zhang Shuai when she had to retrieve from a 2-5 deficit in the first set to triumph after a two-hour battle. It is also worth noting that this is just Kenin’s second appearance in the second week of a Major.
Going up against teenage sensation, 15-year-old Cori Gauff, Kenin was forced to produce a comeback from a set down to triumph, throwing in a bagel in the deciding set. The American has been able to take advantage of the seeds falling apart, defeating fellow surprise quarterfinalist Ons Jabeur to book her spot in the semifinals.
With temperatures soaring as high as 39-degree Celsius, Kenin had to battle not just the weather, but also the world number one Ashleigh Barty and her strong following in Rod Laver Arena. She saved two set points in both sets to prevail 7-6, 7-5 after an hour and 45 minutes of thrilling tennis, silencing the home crowd to surge into her maiden Grand Slam final.
Road to the final: Muguruza
Muguruza’s ability to play aggressive tennis cannot be underestimated, although she seemed to hit an obstacle in recent years. Here she is, back at her best and competing for the biggest titles of the sport once again. Roaring back into contention in the winners’ circle, Muguruza has re-labelled herself as one of the most dangerous players on tour after reuniting with former player Conchita Martinez as her coach.
After starting the tournament on the worst possible note with a bagel loss against qualifier Shelby Rogers, she survived the huge scare and triumphed in a topsy-turvy 0-6, 6-1, 6-0 scare after struggling with a viral illness. She battled against home favourite Ajla Tomljanovic under the roof for three sets, before clinching one of the most stunning wins of the tournament after beating world number five Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-2.
It was back-to-back top-10 wins for Muguruza as she backed it up with another straight-sets triumph, this time coming over the ninth-ranked Kiki Bertens, advancing into the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2018. There, she ousted Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova under tough conditions before maintaining her unbeaten hard-court record against fourth seed Simona Halep, prevailing 7-6, 7-5 after pulling off major comebacks in both sets.
Head to Head
Muguruza and Kenin met just once previously, facing off in the first round of the China Open last year where both players stepped onto the court at 2 am local time as the previous matches took quite some time to be completed. The American overcame a mid-match hiccup, beating Muguruza 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 after an hour and 41 minutes of action.
Kenin and Muguruza have been playing their best tennis throughout the fortnight, although the quality of their semifinal wins was not exceptional. Muguruza, coached by Martinez now, has once again developed the aggression in her game and evolved into the aggressor in most of her matches now, something that has been lacking her game recently. However, she will be up for a tough battle against Kenin, whose playing style has bothered many of the top players since last year.
The American has the ability to counterpunch against big-hitting players but is also capable of generating power of her own. It will be interesting to see whether Kenin can keep up with Muguruza’s power at the baseline, considering the world-class counterpuncher Halep got overpowered occasionally on the big points. In that aspect, Muguruza might have to be warier since Kenin is willing to go for her shots and is fearless during the nervy moments.
One would wonder if nerves could be a factor in both players’ performance, but for Muguruza this stage would not be unfamiliar as she had been here on three previous occasions. Whereas, Kenin handled the nerves well against Barty when the crowd was not on her side. Having fought so well in all her matches, it is hard to imagine nerves affecting both players although it could have a slight implication in the early stages of the final.
Muguruza’s experience could be critical on such an occasion, and she should be able to sneak out a very tight win against the American as it would be an uphill task for Kenin to consistently overpower her opponent.
Don Han: Muguruza in three
Oliver Dickson Jefford: Muguruza in three
Jakub Bobro: Kenin in three
John Lupo: Muguruza in straights