Is it harder to win your first title, or the next one?

One of those questions that is seemingly easy to answer, yet in reality is anything but, tonight we will get a chance to further examine both sides of the argument. Whether it is Sofia Kenin, the fresh-faced American playing in a major final for the first time, or Garbine Muguruza, who after two titles, looked for a long time like she may never do so again – someone is going to complete their fairytale here, while the other will have to start over.

That is what is at stake when Kenin and Muguruza take to the court for the 2020 Australian Open Women’s Singles Final. Both vying for breakthroughs of a different sort, only one can actually get it. Who will it be? Read on to find out.

From 7:30pm AEDT:

Sofia Kenin (USA) [14] v Garbine Muguruza (ESP)

The Storylines

Despite being a star on the junior scene for over a decade and already a very solid pro, 21-year-old Kenin has largely slipped under the radar of up-and-comers in US tennis. In fact, up until now the most noteworthy thing about her might’ve been her no-look ball toss, at least when ESPN et al. had even younger prospects to talk about like Coco Gauff and Amanda Anisimova. Despite the lack of hype, she now finds herself on the verge of winning a major title, and should she do so, there would be no choice but to herald her as the future of American tennis.

For Muguruza, a win would represent her re-emergence after several years in the grand slam wilderness. World number one after her second major title at Wimbledon in 2017, a coaching change and the newfound target on her back caused her game to fall to pieces, even if the talent was never in doubt. Suddenly she has found her way back, and with one more step, will once again sit amongst the game’s elite players.

The Form

It’s hard to believe now, but Muguruza started this tournament getting bageled by American Shelby Rogers, and yet, after that set and the one she dropped against Alja Tomljanovic, she has been perfect. Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Simona Halep were all unable to get on the scoreboard, and that speaks to a player who has really found their footing.

Similarly, Kenin’s road to the final has been relatively clean – her only set dropped a tiebreak against Coco Gauff in the fourth round – but with her semi-final opponent Ash Barty being her only seeded opponent, it’s not quite as impressive. Additionally, it’s fair to suggest that the Barty match was less a case of Kenin winning it than the Aussie losing it, but then again, maybe that’s just how the American likes it.

The Matchup

I won’t lie – it’s hard to figure out this one.

Kenin and Muguruza have played once before – a 6-0, 2-6, 6-2 affair in Beijing last September – but it was about as unindicative as a match can get. Finishing at 2:31 in the morning, neither player seemed particularly up for it, with Kenin winning by reeling-off six games straight after starting 2-0 down in the third, although more than anything, it seemed like both women were just happy to go to bed.

More importantly, the Muguruza of today is not the same player Kenin faced in China, which is why it’s unsurprising the Spaniard has been installed as the bookies’ favourite. She’s looked like her old self again, and when that old self is a two-time major champion, it’s going to sway opinion in your favour.

Nevertheless, there’s a good case to be made for both sides. For Muguruza, it’s fairly straightforward: Kenin can’t hope to match her pace and depth from the baseline, and that combined with her newfound willingness to come to net means she should dictate the majority of exchanges. Conversely, Kenin happens to have a knack for the sort of changes in direction and depth that give power players trouble, and if she finds the opportunity to hit one of her sharply angled backhands, perfectly feathered drop-shots, or exquisitely placed down-the-line forehands, she’ll open the court up to create attacking opportunities of her own – it’s just a question of whether those opportunities come before she’s hit off the court.

With that in mind, the match is probably on Muguruza’s racquet, but Kenin will like her chances. Regardless, fluctuations in confidence are sure to play a major role, tied as it is to two important factors.

The first is Muguruza’s serve. Undoubtedly the bigger server of the two, she’s likely to feel to play more aggressive (and therefore not give Kenin openings) if she can earn cheap points in her service games. Conversely, if she is forced to serve a lot of seconds, Kenin will be able to ramp up the pressure and turn games into the sort of arduous affairs she is used to on her own service, where her own no-look motion does her no favours in making things easy.

Second is, of course, the mental aspect. Will Kenin feel the nerves of her first final? Or will she keep the same composure that allowed her to escape Ash Barty? Will Muguruza’s prior experience in this situation help her keep her cool? Or will her extended time away from such occasions make for more anxiety than anticipation? Take your pick, the case is there to be made for all of them – indeed, the rollercoaster of nerves is likely to affect both as the match goes on – it’s just a question of who handles it best.

The Prediction

Muguruza in two tight sets. As impressive as Kenin has been so far, Muguruza is playing a step above anything she has experienced this tournament, and as long as the Spaniard keeps her head screwed on straight, it should be too much to handle. That said, don’t be surprised if the two trade breaks or a tiebreak along the way, but ultimately, I believe it will be Garbine Muguruza who is your 2020 Australian Open Women’s Singles Champion.


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