Muguruza beats Halep to reach Australian Open final against Kenin

Muguruza reaches her first Melbourne final with a tough 7-6 (10/8), 7-5 victory over Simona Halep.

Unseeded Garbine Muguruza defeated fourth seed Simona Halep on Thursday to set up an Australian Open final with surprise-package Sofia Kenin, who defeated World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the other semifinal.

Muguruza, a two-time Grand Slam champion, reached her first Melbourne final with a tough 7-6 (10/8), 7-5 victory at a hot Rod Laver Arena. The 26-year-old Spaniard, who suffered a calamitous drop in form last season, is the first unseeded player to reach the women's final since Belgium's Justine Henin in 2010.

Halep and Muguruza, who have both won the French Open and Wimbledon, were too close to split in a nervy first set. In sweltering heat, with play on the outside courts suspended earlier as temperatures hit 38 Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit), they grappled all the way to the tie-breaker. Muguruza, unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time since 2014, squandered two set points in the breaker while saving two more for Halep, and then clinched it with a stop volley that Halep couldn't get back over the net.

It was the first set that Halep — also a former No. 1 — had dropped all week and she reacted by mangling her racquet and slumped in her chair, shaking her head.

The 28-year-old recovered her poise and broke Muguruza for a 3-2 lead in the second set, before Muguruza broke back and then held to make it 6-5. Halep, so serene in Melbourne up until now, cracked as she served to stay in the tournament, saving the first match point but then netting a backhand as Muguruza surged forward on the second.

 

Earlier, Sofia Kenin sent Barty spinning out of the Melbourne Park semifinals with a 7-6 (6), 7-5 win, crushing Australian hopes of a first home-grown champion at the Grand Slam in 42 years.

Barty came into the match with a 4-1 record against the American and had the 14th seed on the back foot for most of the opening set with a combination of big forehands and backhand slices. The 21-year-old Kenin showed her frustration at times, throwing her racquet on court, but managed to hang in and saved three breakpoints to hold for 3-3 and eventually force a tiebreaker.

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With temperatures soaring to 38 degrees Celsius, the American saved two set points and then converted her first to take the opening stanza and stun the crowd into silence. But the fans soon found their voice again, belting out chants of, “Let's go Barty, let's go,” as the home favourite broke Kenin early in the second set to go up 2-1.

Barty, who was bidding to become the first local woman to progress to an Australian Open final since Wendy Turnbull in 1980, was in the driving seat serving at 5-4 and with two setpoints but Kenin broke to bring the set back on serve.

The American then held before converting on her second match point on Barty's serve.