Sofia Kenin had never been past the fourth round of a Grand Slam. Garbine Muguruza, while a two-time major champion, had not reached the quarterfinals in nearly two years.
Yet they meet in Saturday’s Australian Open final (3:30 a.m. ET), the end of a breakthrough event for the American Kenin and a resurgent one for the Spaniard Muguruza.
Kenin, a 21-year-old born in Moscow and raised as a tennis prodigy in Florida, was best known for beating Serena Williams in the third round of the French Open last spring.
While she lost her next match at Roland Garros to eventual champion Ash Barty, Kenin continued to show promise by reaching a pair of U.S. hard-court semifinals leading up to the U.S. Open.
But other, younger Americans had more talked-about Slam breakthroughs — Amanda Anisimova, 18, made the French Open semifinals, and Coco Gauff, 15, made the Wimbledon fourth round.
Yet Kenin’s overall strong play last season earned her the 14th seed in Melbourne. She rallied from a set down to beat Gauff in the fourth round. In her lone match against a seeded player, Kenin swept the home favorite Barty in the semifinals.
“I know that people haven’t really paid attention much to me in the past, but I had to establish myself, and I have,” Kenin said. “Of course, now I’m getting the attention. I like it.”
A few years ago, Muguruza showed the youthful dominance that Kenin must be dreaming of. At 20, she swept Williams 6-2, 6-2 in the 2014 French Open. Two years later, she beat Williams in the French Open final. A year after that, she won Wimbledon.
But Muguruza failed to make a Grand Slam quarterfinal last season. She didn’t fare much better in lesser events. She is unseeded at a Slam for the first time since the 2014 French Open.
“I’m happy to not be in the spotlight,” she said.
She can’t hide now.
Muguruza, after changing coaches and returning to 1994 Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez, beat a trio of top-10 players in Melbourne, all in straight sets: Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Simona Halep.
Muguruza dismissed the notion that she has an edge over Kenin, given her Slam experience. Kenin won their only previous meeting last September.
“The racket has to speak out there,” Muguruza said. “It doesn’t matter how many Grand Slams you have.”
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