Kenin won her first grand slam title at the Australian Open on Saturday, rallying to beat a resurgent Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-2 6-2 as Melbourne’s fickle weather resurfaced.
At 21, Kenin became the youngest women’s champion at the Australian Open since her idol, Maria Sharapova, in 2008.
She converted five out of six break points while saving 10 of 12 herself, often with gutsy winners. Muguruza was undone by eight double faults, three in the final game including one long on match point.
Kenin put her hand to her face in disbelief in the moment of victory before exchanging a hug with Muguruza.
Soon it was off to dad Alex in her box for a handshake.
Alex said earlier in the tournament, after she downed teen sensation Coco Gauff, that her daughter should be receiving more attention.
That doesn’t figure to be an issue any longer.
She will move inside the top 10 from 15th in the rankings and replace Serena Williams as the new US No. 1.
Kenin said she’d like to move to New York one day, partly due to its fancy shops. She’ll have more money to spend after pocketing $4 million AUD.
Like Sharapova, Kenin was born in Russia before settling in Florida at a young age via New York. Her dad drove a taxi and studied computers, despite not having a good grasp of English.
At times when driving the taxi, Alex said he couldn’t understand where he was supposed to go.
Kenin started to play when she was around three and a half years old, hitting balls with her dad in their driveway in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
Prominent tennis coach Rick Macci helped hone her game and it wasn’t long before a six-year-old Kenin was being given a tour of the Miami Open by grand slam winner Kim Clijsters.
As a child, she also had her picture taken with Anna Kournikova.
Kenin isn’t the tallest of players at 5-foot-7 but generates ample power by straddling the baseline and using her opponents’ pace. Furthermore, she matches Sharapova’s fierce competitiveness.
In the final two sets, Kenin hit 19 winners with only eight unforced errors, also playing incredible defense when required.
Muguruza doesn’t have the most power on the tour but there is ample venom that is, when on her game, relentless.
Kenin, was on the back foot for the opener.
That was telling, since — while not being one of the taller players on tour — she indeed likes to dictate herself.
Kenin didn’t appear to be overawed in her first grand slam final. A tenacious baseliner who doesn’t fear anyone, she won the first six points of the encounter under the roof at Rod Laver Arena.
Melbourne’s weather is living up to the script, fickle. After two days of scorching temperatures that topped 40 degrees Celsius, rain followed and the temperature dropped considerably by Saturday evening.
Thankfully for all parties, the bush smoke that hit Melbourne during qualifying week after the bush fires in the country has not been an issue during the tournament proper.
Kenin dropped serve at 1-1 with a forehand wide and Muguruza built a 4-2 advantage helped by winning a 23-shot rally that ended with a volley winner.
Muguruza, ranked 32 in the world, was broken for 4-4 after hitting back-to-back double faults for the second time in the contest, a precursor to more serving woes.
Yet Muguruza didn’t allow that blip to turn into an extended slide, breaking back for 5-4. She created nine break points in the first, which was sealed with a loud Muguruza roar.
Losing the first set appeared to be trouble for Kenin, since one had to go back to 2013 for the last time a women’s player rallied to win the final after dropping the opener — Victoria Azarenka defeating Li Na.
Kenin is more accustomed to roaring than Muguruza and three times she let out loud yells of “come on” including when earning a break point at 2-1. A Muguruza error led to the break.
When she held for 4-1, Kenin purposefully walked to her chair in keeping with her quick strides between points.
Kenin hammered a return winner to bring up a set point and leveled at one set apiece by forcing an error.
Her second-set numbers were glittering — eight winners and only four unforced errors.
Just like in their lone meeting in Beijing last year, won by Kenin, the encounter went to a third set.
The trainer visited Muguruza for a reason not immediately obvious but there was no medical timeout.
Muguruza’s unforced error tally climbed to 35 early in the third but she escaped from 15-30 in the fourth game aided by an ace and overhead following Kenin’s admirable defense.
Speaking of defense, Muguruza hasn’t defended any better. Making Kenin hit one more ball led to a forehand error with Muguruza stranded at 2-2, for 0-40.
But in the turning point of the decider, Kenin saved all three by moving Muguruza around and registering three winners. It was bold tennis under extreme pressure.
Muguruza was having to work so hard for points, as evidenced by another 23-shot rally when Kenin’s defensive lobs kept the point going.
Muguruza subsequently dropped serve from 40-15 — missing a backhand near the net at deuce after Kenin’s return skimmed the tape and double faulting on break point — and the finishing line was in sight.
Muguruza’s back to back double faults from 40-15 helped Kenin bring up a first match point, which she missed on a forehand return.
But on a second match point, Muguruza double faulted again and Kenin was a champion.
This was still an encouraging fortnight for Muguruza, who’d beaten Serena and Venus Williams in her two other major finals.
Unseeded for the first time at a grand slam since 2014 after a troubling 2019, the 26-year-old defeated three top-10 seeds. Scaling Mount Kilimanjaro in the off-season appears to have been a life — and career — altering moment.
But Muguruza wasn’t able to hit the heights Saturday thanks to a dogged American whose determination matches her impressive game.