Thursday, January 30, 2020

Kenin and Muguruza to compete for Australian Open title

So it turns out Sofia Kenin can have a case of nerves, and why wouldn’t she? She was playing in her first major semifinal against the world number 1—at the world number 1’s home tournament, where the crowd was overwhelming cheering for the home player. Being “frozen” by the moment was to be expected.

But Kenin had a bit of luck: Ash Barty was also struck by a case of nerves, or—as some might call it—Stosuritis. In singles competition, Sam Stosur was always overcome by the occasion when she played in Australia. 

Of course, it’s also possible that Barty was just having a bad day and came out flat. Whatever the reason, the top seed was not herself yesterday in Rod Laver Arena, when she attempted to reach the final of the Australian Open. 

As both players struggled to find their best games, they nevertheless both remained pretty consistent with their serves. Kenin, surprisingly, outplayed Barty at the net. Barty hit twice as many winners as Kenin, but she also made more errors (36 to Kenin's 25). The first set was decided by a tiebreak, in which Barty held two set points. But Kenin took advantage of the Australian's shakiness, and wound up winning the tiebreak 8-6.

Barty jumped to a quick break in the second set. She served for the set at 5-4, and again held two set points, but again, she came up short. Kenin broke her, then held at love, giving her even more momentum as the match wound to what appeared to be its final turn. Barty then saved a match point on her own serve, but it wasn't enough. A wayward forehand gave her opponent a 7-6, 7-5 victory.

In other news, Garbine Muguruza's soul was returned to her body yesterday when she defeated an in-form Simona Halep 7-6, 7-5 (the scoreline of the day!) to advance to her first Australian Open final. There really aren't enough superlative adjectives to describe this match. Playing in horrific heat (though the heat meter stayed at 4.9, one-tenth of a point shy of what is required to put the roof over Rod Laver Arena), both Muguruza and Halep engaged in some of the most outstanding play--both aggressive and defensive--that anyone could ever wish to see.

Muguruza, unseeded (as strange as that sounds) at the tournament, looked as though she might have to retire in her first round. After losing a set 0-6 to Shelby Rogers, the two-time major champion showed obvious signs of illness, and had to have her blood pressure checked. She was able to rally, however--and just kept going, all the way through the semifinals. Fans have waited so long for the "real Mugu" to return to the tour, and return she has. Coached once again by Conchita Martinez, the Spaniard looks as dangerous as she ever did.

The momentum rocked back and forth between Halep and Muguruza, who broke each other's serve a total of seven times. For her part, Halep did most of her work from the baseline, but Muguruza was all over the place, a factor which helped her win the match. Both players wound up with negative winner-to-unforced error ratios, but that doesn't take away from the blistering quality of their shot-making, their running, and their strategy.

Kenin and Muguruza have played each other only once, in Beijing last year in the first round, and Kenin won 6-0, 6-2. (That was, of course, the other Muguruza.)

Here are the players' paths to the final:

round 1--def. Martina Trevisan (Q)
round 2--def. Ann Li (Q)
round 3--def. Zhang Shuai
round 4--def. Coco Gauff
quarterfinals--def. Ons Jabeur
semifinals--def. Ash Barty (1)

round 1--def. Shelby Rogers (Q)
round 2--def. Ajla Tomljanovic
round 3--def. Elina Svitolina (5)
round 4--def. Kiki Bertens (9)
quarterfinals--def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (3)
semifinals--def. Simona Halep (3)

Also yesterday, Zhenzhen Zhu, the newcomer (to majors) who upset Diede De Groot, was defeated in the wheelchair semifinals by 2019 Wimbledon champion (and DeGroot's doubles partner) Aniek Van Koot. It was a rather odd score, too--1-6, 6-0, 6-4. Van Koot will face 2nd seed Yui Kamiji in the final. Also, top seeds De Groot and Van Koot will play Kamiji and Jordanne Whiley in the doubles final.

No comments: