MELBOURNE, Australia — After an upset-ridden, surprising fortnight at the Australian Open, Sofia Kenin and Garbine Muguruza are set to battle for the women’s title on Saturday (3:30 a.m. ET, ESPN). It is perhaps a matchup no one predicted entering the tournament — which is surprising, considering how dominant both have been during their subsequent runs to the final.
So how exactly did they both get here? Let’s break it down, match by match.
The 21-year-old came to Melbourne as the No. 14 seed following a career year in 2019 that resulted in three singles titles and being ranked just outside the top 10 for the first time. She was eliminated in the second round in both Brisbane and Adelaide leading into the first Grand Slam of 2020. With the hype surrounding many of her fellow Americans, she was largely overlooked by fans and analysts alike.
First round: Starting play on the first day of competition as part of an extremely tough quarter that included former champions Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Caroline Wozniacki, Kenin faced Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan on the relatively small Court 3. Kenin needed just 78 minutes to pull off the 6-2, 6-4 victory.
Second round: Back on Court 3 two days later, Kenin took on fellow American Ann Li, a teenage qualifier who had knocked off Australian Lizette Cabrera in her opener. Kenin wasn’t going to let Li do the same to her, and she had a staggering 79% win percentage on first serve and won seven games in a row at one point. Ultimately, her fellow countrywoman was no match for her, and she advanced in under an hour 6-1, 6-3.
Third round: Moving to the larger Margaret Court Arena, Kenin had a much trickier time in the round of 32 against Zhang Shuai, who had already played spoiler to Americans Sloane Stephens and Caty McNally. Kenin struggled initially, trailing 3-0 in the first eight minutes, and then faced set point twice in the opening set before clawing her way back. In the second set, she was down a break but held off Zhang in a tiebreak for the 7-5, 7-6 (7) victory in just over two hours to advance to the second week in Melbourne for the first time.
Fourth round: In one of the most-anticipated matches of the tournament, Kenin took on 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff at Melbourne Arena in front of a capacity crowd. Gauff was the talk of the tournament, having just eliminated defending champion Osaka in straight sets and was the overwhelming crowd favorite. Gauff took the hard-fought first set in a tiebreak, but from there on it was all Kenin. She broke Gauff early in the second set, and then let her make unforced error after unforced error (she had 48 in total) all while remaining calm. Kenin blanked Gauff in the third set for a statement win, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-0, and was the only American woman to advance to the quarterfinals.
Quarterfinals: Coming into the next round with more eyes on her than before, thanks to the win over Gauff, Kenin needed to bring all she had against Ons Jabeur, who was playing for history of her own as the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. Kenin started strong on Rod Laver Arena with a 3-1 lead, but Jabeur managed to even it at 3-all before Kenin hit her stride. She saved six of the seven break points she faced and held off a slew of tricky shots from Jabeur for a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Semifinals: Playing in her first semifinals at a major, Kenin had the unenviable task of facing world No. 1 and hometown favorite Ashleigh Barty in front of a loud and rowdy crowd on Laver on a day that hovered around 100 degrees. But Kenin shocked Barty — and her fans — and staved off set point in two sets for a 7-6 (6), 7-5 win in an hour and 45 minutes. Kenin dropped her racket and cried when she secured in her spot in the final.
The 26-year-old came to Australia with virtually no expectations following a disappointing 2019. Having won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017, Muguruza had struggled in the years since, making it to just one major semifinal in that time. She was eliminated in the first round at the All England Club and at the US Open in last year, and her ranking dropped to a five-year low of No. 36 to end the season. She had a strong start to 2020, with a semifinal appearance at Shenzhen followed by making the quarterfinals at Hobart before having to withdraw with a viral illness. She entered Melbourne unseeded and very much under the radar. In fact, her health made some question if she would even be able to play in the tournament.
First round: Facing American qualifier Shelby Rogers in her opener, it looked for a time as if Muguruza would be facing another early exit when she was handed a bagel in the first set. Despite the slow start and a medical timeout, Muguruza recovered and pulled off an impressive comeback that included winning 12 of the last 13 games for a 0-6, 6-1, 6-0 victory.
Second round: Muguruza had the challenge of playing Australian Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round on Rod Laver in front of a biased crowd as a consequence of being unseeded. She suffered another sluggish start, losing the first two games, but then won the next five. Ultimately, Muguruza had 34 winners and managed to break her opponent four times to hold on for a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory in two hours and 21 minutes.
Third round: Being unseeded resulted in yet another tough matchup, she took on world No. 5 Elina Svitolina in the round of 32. There would be no slow start for the Spaniard this time, and she had a nearly flawless performance as she defeated Svitolina for the fourth time out of four tries in a major. Muguruza took the first set in just 23 minutes and easily advanced behind a 6-1, 6-2 final score.
Fourth round: Facing yet another top-10 player, Kiki Bertens, the odds were against Muguruza again on Rod Laver Arena. Again Muguruza proved the bigger the opponent, the better her game. She notched six aces and 19 winners and broke Bertens’ serve five times in a 6-3, 6-3 victory that lasted just over an hour. Muguruza advanced to her first major quarterfinal in almost two years, and it marked the first time she had achieved back-to-back wins over top-10 players since Indian Wells in March of last year.
Quarterfinals: Muguruza next took on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 30th seed who had eliminated 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in the previous round. Unlike in her previous two matches, Muguruza was tested in the first set and was down a break twice before taking the opener in 57 minutes. After falling down a break to start the second, she found her rhythm and dominated down the stretch for a 7-5, 6-3 win. She had six aces on the day and advanced to her first semifinal at Melbourne.
Semifinals: After reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep needed just 53 minutes to bulldoze her way into the semifinals, she became the immediate favorite to win the title, but Muguruza would not be intimidated. Playing in the mid-afternoon sun and extreme heat on Laver, the two squared off in what felt like a heavyweight bout for the ages. There were no easy points, and it was a tense clash from start to finish. Ultimately it was Muguruza, behind 10 aces and 39 winners, who held on for the 7-6 (8), 7-5 win in two hours and five minutes. It ended with Halep hitting into the net following a six-shot rally. Muguruza clenched her fist in victory but otherwise showed little emotion as she made it back to her first Grand Slam final since 2017.