By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – 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.
“She’s such a tough player, she’s playing really amazing and I knew I really needed to find a way to win,” Kenin said. “This really wasn’t an easy one. I’m just so speechless.
“I can’t believe this, I have dreamt about this moment since I was five-years-old. I’ve worked so hard to get here.
“I needed to fight out there. There’s a reason why she’s world number one.”
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 favorite 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 either Romanian Simona Halep or Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who are meeting in Thursday’s second semi-final.
Barty, who hit 33 winners to Kenin’s 16, said she enjoyed the experience of playing a Grand Slam semi-final in front of a home crowd but was disappointed she failed to take her chances.
“I think a match where I didn’t feel super comfortable,” she said. “I felt like my first plan wasn’t working. I couldn’t execute the way that I wanted. I tried to go to B and C.
“I think I had to dig and find a way. I’m two points away from winning that in straight sets, which is disappointing.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)