Saturday, February 1, 2020

Kenin outslugs Muguruza for first Grand Slam title

Sofia Kenin, right, and ex-Stanford star Nicole Gibbs
pose after the final of the 2018 Berkeley (Calif.) Chal-
lenger. Kenin, then 19, defeated Gibbs, 25 at the time,
6-0, 6-4. Photo by Paul Bauman   
   After losing to 64th-ranked Sofia Kenin in the final of the 2018 Berkeley (Calif.) Challenger, former Stanford star Nicole Gibbs predicted that the 19-year-old American eventually would crack the top 20.
   Only 18 months later, Kenin far exceeded that bold forecast.
   The 14th-seeded Kenin outslugged unseeded Garbine Muguruza, a former world No. 1 who has won two Grand Slam singles titles, early today to win her first major crown.
   The 21-year-old Kenin, playing in her maiden Grand Slam final, used her impeccable groundstrokes and fierce determination to triumph 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   "My dream officially came true," Kenin gushed during the awards ceremony. "I cannot even describe this feeling. It's so emotional. I've worked so hard, and I'm just so grateful to be standing here. Dreams come true, so if you have a dream, go for it, and it's going to come true."
   It was the first Australian Open final in the Open era without a top-10 player. But Kenin, who was born in Moscow and moved to the United States as an infant, will rise eight spots and debut in the top 10 at No. 7 in Monday's rankings.
   "She is not a flash in the pan," crowed ESPN commentator Chris Evert, an International Tennis Hall of Famer. "She's going to be around for long time because she has the hunger and grit and she can still improve. She can improve her serve and her volley. She's going to continue going up the rankings."
   Mary Joe Fernandez, a former top-five player in singles and doubles, agreed with her ESPN colleague's assessment.
   "We're going to see her in more Grand Slam finals," Fernandez proclaimed. "She's tough to beat. She doesn't give you anything."
   The Berkeley crown was Kenin's third in a Northern California Challenger, all in consecutive years. She also won Sacramento at age 17 in 2016 and Stockton.
   Muguruza, 26, also has excelled in NorCal. She reached the semifinals of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in 2017, the tournament's last year. In addition, Muguruza advanced to the singles quarterfinals and won the doubles title with fellow Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro at Stanford in 2014 at age 20.
   With the Australian Open title, the 5-foot-7 (1.70-meter) Kenin improved to 2-0 against the 6-foot (1.82-meter) Muguruza and pocketed $2,853,100.
   Muguruza, who reunited with coach Conchita Martinez after last season, collected $1,430,012. She will cut her ranking of No. 32 in half.
   Muguruza called for a trainer after the second set for an apparent lower-back injury but did not take a medical timeout.
   The turning point in the match came with Kenin serving at 2-2 in the third set. She fell behind 0-40 but held serve with four passing shots and an ace. Kenin then broke for 4-2.
   Muguruza served at 2-5, 40-15 but double-faulted twice for deuce. Kenin converted her second championship point on another double fault.
   Kenin had a much easier road to the final than Muguruza. Kenin did not face a seed until ousting top-ranked Ashleigh Barty in the semifinals.
   Muguruza, meanwhile, survived three-set matches in the first rounds and knocked off three top-10 players: No. 5 Elina Svitolina in the third round, No. 10 Kiki Bertens in the fourth round and No. 3 Simona Halep in the semifinals. In the latter match, Muguruza survived a grueling baseline battle 7-6 (8), 7-5 in 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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