Australian Open 2020, women’s singles final: Can party crasher Sofia Kenin stop resurgent Garbine Muguruza!

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Garbine Muguruza of Spain (L) and Sofia Kenin of the USA. They will play each other in the Australian Open Women’s Final on February 1

Not many reckoned these two to show up for the Saturday night clash at the Melbourne Park. Ashleigh Barty versus Simona Halep was the general consensus. But it is their respective slayers who will take the centre stage at the Rod Laver Arena on February 1 – 21-year-old Sofia Kenin who reached her maiden Grand Slam final, and Garbine Muguruza from Spain, who will be looking for her third major after French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017.

The resurgent Spaniard

Not many believed that Muguruza would reach the final of the Australian Open, especially after two dismal seasons. Her poor run of form over the last 24 months pushed him outside top-30 in the WTA rankings and had headed into the contest unseeded. In fact, she started this very contest losing the first set 0-6 to Shelby Rogers of United States. But thereafter, there was no looking back for the Spaniard. She defeated world no.5 Elina Svitolina in straight sets in the third round No.9 Kiki Bertens 6-3, 6-3 in the fourth round before defeating No.4 and fellow two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep by straight sets in the semis.

Barring her first two matches, all her opponents were seeded and Muguruza dropped just two sets, both against the unseeded opponents. Following her remarkable comeback story in Melbourne, Muguruza became the first Spaniard to reach the Australian Open final since her coach Conchita Martínez, who had ended up as runner-up to Martina Hingis in 1998. Overall, she is the fourth player of Spanish origin to reach the final in Melbourne – Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario in 1994 and Mary Pierce in 1995. Muguruza will hence be hoping to become the first female Spaniard to win the Australian Open title.

The 26-year-old is also the sixth unseeded finalist in Melbourne in Open Era. Three of the predecessors ended up as runner-up – Pierce in 1997, Amélie Mauresmo in 1999 and Justine Henin in 2010, while two lifted the title – Chris O’Neil in 1978 and Serena Williams in 2007. The last unseeded player to lift a major was Jelena Ostapenko in French Open in 2017. No matter the result, Muguruza will break into the top-20 for the first time since last May. While a loss will put her up at No.16, a third major will make her the No.12.

The surprise American

Amid all the talk about Williams’ bid to 24th major and the Coco mania, Kenin’s rise to the summit clash was completely unanticipated. But the 21-year-old American, who has been obsessed with tennis since infancy and dreamt of defeating Andy Roddick (a video of which has been going viral on Twitter), has emerged to be a party crasher at the Australian Open 2020. She stopped the Coco mania in the fourth round, Ons Jabeur, the first female Arab player to reach a major quarters, and finally the world no.1 in the semis. En route, she dropped only one set – against Gauff.

With the inspiring run, Kenin became the youngest Australian Open finalist since Mari Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic in 2008 and is now 22 days younger than Naomi Osaka when she had lifted the trophy last year.

Despite the Saturday night result, Kenin is slated to make it to the top-10 in WTA rankings. If she loses, she will become the new No.9, a victory, on the other hand, will make her No.7.

Key stats…

1) The two faced each other only once, in Beijing last year in round 1, where Kenin had defeated Muguruza 6-0, 2-6, 6-2.

2) This summit clash will be the first of its kind where both the finalist are ranked outside top 10, but eighth time in Grand Slam history.

3) Kenin has a 3-1 record in WTA finals, while Muguruza owns a 7-4 record. And in major finals, the Spaniard has lost only once in three appearances.

4) In 2020, Muguruza is 11-1 so far, while Kenin is 8-2.

5) A win for Muguruza would make her the joint fourth-highest among active players in Grand Slam list, along with Angelique Kerber. She will stand behind Maria Sharapova (5), Venus Williams (7) and Serena Williams (23).

6) The Spaniard is also hoping to become the third player in Open Era, male or female, to win her first three Grand Slams on three different surfaces, following Hana Mandlikova (Australian Open 1980 on grass, Roland Garros 1981 on clay and US Open 1985 on hard) and Serena Williams (US Open 1999 on hard, Roland Garros 2002 on clay and Wimbledon 2002 on grass).

Strategy:

Kenin has been an impressive baseliner and won lot many points at the net. Muguruza, on the other hand, has been a power player in the tournament, shown way better court coverage and clever with her approach in placing ball. But most importantly, Muguruza has been impactful with her first serves, placing it well wide of the opponent and gaining a lot many free points.

Kenin should look at finding methods to counter-punch Muguruza’s first serves, which has been the main arsenal of the Spaniard. Also, she needs to calm her nerves and not rush into the ball for points, as she did in the earlier part of the Barty clash.

Muguruza will have the edge in the final, not just because of the Conchita factor in the box, but also she has the experience of playing at the biggest stage.

Prediction: Muguruza.

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