Sofia Kenin sent world number one Ash Barty spinning out of the Melbourne Park semi-finals 7-6(6) 7-5 on Thursday to reach her maiden Grand Slam final, crushing Australian hopes of a first home-grown champion in 42 years.
American 21-year-old Kenin, seeded 14th at the year’s first Grand Slam, had a breakthrough 2019 season when she won all three of her singles titles to reach a career-high ranking of 12, the United States’ number two behind Serena Williams.
But Barty, 23, came into Thursday’s match with a 4-1 record against her and had the American pinned on the back foot with a combination of big forehands and backhand slices.
Barty was bidding to become the first local woman to progress to an Australian Open final since Wendy Turnbull in 1980 and looked the more likely winner but Kenin hung tough, saving set points in both frames.
Kenin showed her frustration at times, throwing her racquet on court, but managed to save three break points to hold for 3-3 in the opening set and eventually force a tiebreaker.
Despite temperatures soaring to 38 degrees Celsius (100F), the American kept her cool to win four straight points in the tiebreaker, saved two set points and converted her first to stun the crowd into silence.
But the fans soon found their voice again, belting out chants of, “Let’s go Barty, let’s go,” as the home favourite broke Kenin early in the second set to go up 2-1.
Serving at 5-4, Barty was primed to level the match and force a decider but even holding two set points she could not get across the line, Kenin battling to get the break and bringing the set back on serve.
The American then held before converting her second match point on Barty’s serve to book her place in the final against Garbine Muguruza of Spain who beat Simona Halep in Thursday’s second semi-final.
Muguruza Battles Past Halep
Garbine Muguruza continued her stunning revival at the Australian Open on Thursday as she fought off Simona Halep 7-6(8) 7-5 in a battle of attrition to reach her first Australian Open final in broiling heat.
The unseeded Spaniard arrived at Melbourne Park with low expectations but will now face American 14th seed Sofia Kenin in Saturday’s title match for a chance to clinch her third major title after a period in the Grand Slam wilderness.
With the temperature nudging 40 degrees Celsius (104F) at a scorching Rod Laver Arena, Muguruza was dragged into a see-sawing scrap by fourth seed Halep, who threatened to run away with the second set after losing her cool at the end of the first.
However, the Spaniard who scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in the offseason had the endurance to match Halep and ended up avenging her semi-final loss to the Romanian at the 2018 French Open.
Down 5-4 in the second set, Muguruza rallied and blasted through the dogged Romanian’s defences, breaking her twice in the finish to avoid a third set in sweltering conditions.
Like world number one Ash Barty, who failed to convert four set points in her semi-final against Kenin, Halep was left to rue a slew of missed chances.
She let two set points go begging in the tiebreak against an opponent she had never beaten on hardcourts.
The pair traded breaks early in the second set before Halep nudged ahead and steeled herself to level the match on serve.
She saved three break points as Muguruza ratcheted up the pressure but finally buckled with a pair of unforced errors.
Having stolen the momentum, Muguruza rode it to the finish, rushing forward to coax Halep into another ill-fated pass on the second match point.
Muguruza, the only woman to beat Venus and Serena Williams in Grand Slam finals, will play her first major title match since her Wimbledon triumph.