Ashleigh Barty fell just short of pleasing millions of Australians when the American Sofia Kenin gritted her teeth on the hottest day of the 2020 Australian Open to win their semi-final 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday.
Her opponent in the final on Saturday night is Garbiñe Muguruza, who beat the world No 3 Simona Halep in the second semi-final 7-6 (10-8), 7-5. The Spaniard, who arrived with a viral illness and was unseeded in a slam for the first time in six years, took the title favourite out of her stride at key moments in both sets, despite 44 unforced errors in just over two hours.
Had Barty been able to drag the match into a third set, they would have had to take a 10-minute break according to the regulations of the tournament. The heat stress reading hovered just below five, which would have required the match to be suspended. Neither player wanted that. Both fought hard all the way.
Kenin’s Russian-born father, Alex, (who calls her Sonya) arrived in America with $300 in his pocket – mirroring the experience of Maria Sharapova and her father – and he could hardly stop beaming in the stands. The journey has a little way to go, but this was a landmark event, passage into her first slam final at 21, saving two set points in each set against the world No 1.