The highest attended Grand Slam of all time is officially over, with over 800,000 people attending Melbourne Park over the course of the Australian Open. Yesterday’s recap of the men’s singles ended with me pondering the prospect of Djokovic catching Nadal & Federer atop the Grand Slam leaderboard. But on the women’s side, it’s a completely different story. Surprise finalist, Sofia Kenin, wrapped up her first grand slam title with a win over another surprise finalist, Garbine Muguruza. There’s plenty to pore over in terms of the WTA in the aftermath of the open, so let’s dive in.
For the 3rd Grand Slam in a row, the tennis world caught a fever – Coco fever. After making the 4th & 3rd round at 2019 Wimbledon & the 2019 US Open, respectively, 15 y/o Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff made the 4th round of the 2020 Australian Open. What made the tennis world sit up and take notice EVEN MORE (if that was even possible) than before!? She beat the defending champion in straight sets – a 3 & 4 winner over Naomi Osaka in the 3rd round. She ended up losing in the 4th round to the eventual champion – Sofia Kenin. Coco is the real deal, and is still (somehow) 15 for another month. At 51 in the world, I think we will see her enter the top 20 before the end of the year. Other noteworthy performances came from Garbine Muguruza, with the 2 time major champion resurrecting her career from a massive drop in form, to make the single’s final.
It’s crazy to think but a semi-final finish actually felt like a disappointment for Ashleigh Barty. Despite this being her best ever finish at the Australian Open (beating out a quarter-final appearance last year), the world no. 1 and 2019 Roland Garros champion has, for better or worse, the nations hopes resting on her shoulders. After a tough start in Brisbane to start the year, Ash hit her straps in Adelaide at the lead-in event and captured her first title on home soil. Duck = broken. But she ended up losing in the semi-final to Kenin – the eventual champion. But interestingly, Ash held set points in both the 1st & 2nd sets. Even more interestingly, both times she was serving. As one of the best servers on the WTA circuit, you would have thought she was a sure thing to take those sets. But her 1st serve well & truly deserted her, as did her topspin backhand. Despite this, I actually think Ash will be better because of this loss. Getting used to the fanfare and pressure associated with being the world no. 1 at your home slam can’t be easy, and I think Ash learnt a lot during the 2020 tournament.
Coming of Age
Former child prodigy, Sofia Kenin, took out the title over the vastly more experienced Garbine Muguruza. 21 y/o Kenin entered the tournament seeded 14, with Muguruza (2 time major champion) entering unseeded. Despite being the much less experienced player, Kenin battled back from a set down to win 4-6 6-2 6-2. After losing the 1st set I have to admit I thought Kenin was done. Cooked. Finished. Pull her out of the oven. In fact, of the last 49 major finals where a woman is a set down in her first slam final, only 1 has come back to win. That’s 1-48. Stats – meet Sofia Kenin. She doesn’t care about you.
Despite a much weaker serve than most WTA players in terms of pace, Sofia managed to hold serve almost 90% of the time during the tournament. She does that through an incredibly high 1st serve percentage (around 90%) and a knack for hitting consistent spots on the court. The final was no different. While Muguruza blasted her way to a 1st set victory, the ever determined Kenin stayed patient, weathered the storm and helped orchestrate the capitulation of the Muguruza 2nd serve with some fantastic returning in the 2nd and 3rd sets. Ultimately, Kenin showed she has that champion DNA. That X Factor that not many players have – the mettle & clutch to perform better under pressure and actually rise to the occasion.
Case in point – 3rd set of the final. Scores are locked at 2-2. It’s Kenin’s serve and it’s 0-40. 3 break points for Muguruza. Cue a 13 shot rally culminating in Kenin crunching a backhand winner down the line. 15-40 now. Cue an 11 shot rally finished by Kenin with a monster backhand winner down the line. 30-40 now. Cue an 11 shot rally finished by Kenin with a huge forehand winner down the line. Then wins the game with a winner off the 11th shot in the rally. Then wins the next 3 games in a row to win the final set 6-2 and capture her first grand slam. Enough said.
I feel it’s going to be the first of many Grand Slam victories for Sofia Kenin, watch out WTA.