MELBOURNE: Feisty American 14th seed Sofia Kenin stunned world number one and home hope Ashleigh Barty to reach her first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open on Thursday.
Kenin will play either Romania’s fourth seed Simona Halep or unseeded Garbine Muguruza in Saturday’s final after her surprise 7-6 (8/6), 7-5 victory.
Moscow-born Kenin, 21, who looked shocked in the immediate aftermath, said: “She’s such a tough player, she’s playing really amazing. I knew I had to really find a way to win.
“I’m just speechless, I honestly can’t believe this. I’ve dreamed about this moment since I was five years old.”
“I’ve worked so hard to get here,” added Kenin. “I really had to fight out here. There’s a reason she’s number one.”
Kenin, the last American left in a sweltering Melbourne, where play on the outside courts was suspended as temperatures hit 38 Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit), was the party pooper once more.
She had already brought the fairytale run of 15-year-old Coco Gauff to an end in the fourth round with the aggressive style of play that has become her trademark over the past fortnight.
And she was at it again as temperatures soared at a fiercely pro-Barty Rod Laver Arena. Both players retreated into the shade on court whenever they could.
Kenin, who had a breakthrough 2019, winning her first three WTA titles, was contesting her first Grand Slam semi-final, and it was Barty’s first time in the last four in Melbourne.
But if the locals hoped Kenin would be cowed by the occasion and her top-ranked opponent, the French Open champion, they were mistaken.
Barty and Kenin, wearing identical mint-green tops and blue skirts, went with serve in the first set, although the Australian was slightly more comfortable in doing so.
There was again little between them in the tie-break, until Barty unleashed a delicious cross-court forehand for two set points.
But Barty, who once gave up tennis to play professional cricket, wasted both and they were level at 6-6.
Kenin, a fiercely proud American with a stars-and-stripes racquet, went 7-6 up and wrapped the set up in 59 minutes when Barty made an unforced error on a forehand.
Barty, aiming to become the first home-grown Australian Open women’s champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978, showed a rare flash of anger.
The Australian went a break up early in the second set to wrestle back the initiative, then held serve for 3-1. It was Kenin’s turn to show her frustration.
But Barty again squandered two set points, and was broken when she missed a routine forehand. Gasps and then a hush descended on Rod Laver Arena.
Serving to stay in the tournament at 5-6, Barty saved the first match point, but folded under the pressure when she planted a forehand long.--AFP