MELBOURNE, Australia - No.14 seed Sofia Kenin is into the final of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career at the Australian Open after holding her nerve to upset home favorite Ashleigh Barty.
Barty, the World No.1 and top seed, was looking to become the first Australian woman in 40 years to reach the final in Melbourne, since Wendy Turnbull’s run in 1980.
But she ran up against an on-fire Kenin in the semifinals. The American trailed Barty 1-4 in the pair’s head-to-head record, but had won their most recent match in Toronto last year.
Kenin repeated the feat on Rod Laver Arena in straight sets, edging through on a scorcher of a day in Melbourne with temperatures climbing past 100 °F (38 °C). The 21-year-old American had to save set point in both sets, but she kept fighting to storm past the World No.1, 7-6(6), 7-5 after an hour and 45 minutes.
“I believed I could win even though I had two set points down in the first and second,” Kenin said in her post-match press conference. “I could literally feel, I was telling myself, I believe in myself. If I lose the set, I'm still going to come out and believe. Yeah, I really did a great job with it. I didn't give up.
“I knew it was a tough match. 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.
“Yeah, I was fighting. I left everything out all on the court, so it paid off.”
Clutch Kenin@SofiaKenin collects a 7-6(6) 7-5 win over world No. 1 Barty to reach her first Grand Slam final and become the youngest Melbourne finalist since 2008.#AO2020 | #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/vPxrtFzgZU— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 30, 2020
Playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal, Kenin battled early nerves - and the vocally supportive Aussie crowd. Barty served up six aces in her first two service games as Kenin struggled to read the Aussie’s strong delivery.
But Barty herself wasn’t able to capitalize on her chances throughout the set - she held three break points in the sixth game of the match, but Kenin held to make it 3-3. An error-strewn performance - with 21 unforced errors in first set alone - made things tough for Barty, and the pair stayed locked into a tiebreaker.
Kenin trailed for most of the tiebreak, having to fight from behind as the Aussie raced ahead to two set points. But the No.14 seed reeled off four straight points to escape with the opening set.
Barty raised her level in the second, and the crowd on Rod Laver Arena roared to life as the Aussie grabbed the first break of the match to take the lead, 2-1. Barty was moving Kenin all over the court and hitting winners with more fluidity.
But Kenin stayed calm and kept herself within touching distance to apply the pressure on Barty. Her patience paid off, just as Barty was serving for the set at 5-4. Kenin saved two set points and was finally rewarded with her first break of the match to level the score, 5-5.
The American found a second wind and reeled off the last three games in a row to close out the match, sealing her spot into the Australian Open final after an hour and 45-minute battle.
“Yeah, it's disappointing,” Barty admitted afterward. “But it's been a hell of a summer. I mean, if you would have told me three weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semifinals of the Australian Open, I'd take that absolutely every single day of the week.
“But I put myself in a position to win the match today and just didn't play the biggest points well enough to be able to win.
“I have to give credit where credit's due. Sofia came out and played aggressively on those points and deserved to win.”
Kenin now awaits the winner between former World No.1 Garbine Muguruza and reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep in the championship match. At 21, she’s the youngest Australian Open finalist since Ana Ivanovic in 2008.
“First I'm just going to be enjoying the moment,” Kenin said. “You don't experience this so often. Of course, I'm going to enjoy it. This is so exciting. Literally butterflies.
“I'm just going to also focus on what I need to do, focus on my game. I got here, it's time to shine, do the best I can… Hopefully do something more special.”