MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — This, essentially, was where Sofia Kenin was going to win or lose the Australian Open final: Down love-40 while serving at 2-all in the third set against two-time major champion Garbiñe Muguruza.
Kenin came through in spectacular fashion. She won the next five points, each with a winner — one an ace, the others clean groundstrokes to cap exchanges of 11 shots or more.
The American wouldn’t lose another game on her way to earning a Grand Slam title at age 21.
Demonstrative as can be — whether spiking a ball, dropping her racket or slapping her thigh — the 14th-seeded Kenin won the first major final of her career Saturday by coming back to beat a fading Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at Melbourne Park.
Kenin was so magnificent when it mattered the most, saving 10 of 12 break points she faced, while converting 5 of 6 that she earned.
Muguruza, meanwhile, seemed hampered in her movement and, in particular, her serving: She helped Kenin by double-faulting eight times, including three in the last game, one on championship point.
Kenin immediately covered her face with both hands.
For quite some time, she was overlooked and underappreciated, drawing much less attention than other young tennis players from the U.S., such as 15-year-old Coco Gauff — Kenin beat her in the fourth round this week — and 18-year-old Amanda Anisimova.
Maybe it was because Kenin is only 5-foot-7 (1.70 meters). Maybe it was because she went into last season with this resume: ranked outside the top 50, yet to get past the third round of a major, yet to win a tour-level title.
Kenin will be taken more seriously now. By everyone.
With her father, Alex, who also coaches her, watching nervously in the stands, Kenin became the youngest Australian Open champion since 2008, when Maria Sharapova won the hard-court tournament at age 20.