Australian Open 2020: Djokovic Dominates, Kenin Claims Women’s Side

At an exhilarating Aussie Open, Novak Djokovic dominated his way to a 17th major title, while Sofia Kenin became a new face on the WTA Tour.

Updated: Feb. 3, 2020 • 2:20 PM EST

Novak Djokovic has captured another Australian Open title.

Australian bushfires grabbed headlines, as the first Grand Slam of the year got underway in Melbourne three weeks ago.

Noah Rubin, an American competing in the qualification rounds, called the atmosphere “terrifying” on Twitter after seeing Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia retire from her qualifying match. Jakupovic was up a set against Stefanie Vogele.

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Later in the day, practice for all players was “temporarily suspended” because smoke-filled air affected Melbourne and the entire state of New South Wales.

Yet, a benevolent Mother Nature brought rain and wind just in time for the main draw to begin on time. The tournament sighed relief, as players questioned their trust in its air-quality measurement system.

On the last day of the tournament, Novak Djokovic proved that the Big Three aren’t done yet. He won his eighth Australian Open and 17th overall Grand Slam title, defeating a plucky and persistent fifth seed, Dominica Thiem: 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“It was a toe-to-toe battle,” Djokovic said via the Daily Mail. “I was on the brink of losing. I didn’t feel great at all.

“He started dominating from the baseline. I didn’t have any injuries and it was pretty strange to me, my energy completely collapsed. Every time I tossed the ball, I would feel dizzy. I was trying to do everything possible to rejuvenate.”

Djokovic took a five-minute break after the third set, when a doctor evaluated him, saying Djokovic was dehydrated. His accomplishment can’t be understated. According to ESPN’s Stats & Info Twitter page, “Male players trailing 2 sets to 1 in major finals were 2-46 since 2000.” Additionally, the Serbian became the first male player in the Open Era, which began in 1968, to win a grand slam over three decades.

Thiem, the youngest player most likely to push one of the Big Three off their perches (a reign that has extended 15 years), wasn’t bothered by fatigue after the four-hour final. It was his third attempt to win a major: 2018 and 2019 Roland Garros (lost to Rafael Nadal) and this Australian Open.

Beating Nadal on his home court in Paris and Djokovic in Melbourne are the toughest challenges for any aspiring male player. Nadal has won 12 French Opens and Djokovic has never lost in Melbourne, 16-0, after winning a semifinal there.

“These guys brought tennis to a complete new level,” Thiem said via the ATP. “They also brought me probably to a much better level. It was easier for sure in a different era to win big titles, that's 100 percent. But I'm happy I can compete with these guys on the best level.

“I really also hope that I win my maiden Slam when they're [Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer] still around, because it just counts more.”

Sofia Kenin has captured her first major title.

Sofia Kenin’s first Grand Slam triumph falls more under the umbrella of a court of a different color. Serena Williams was the player to beat at any major from 2005-2016, when she won her last major at The Australian Open. Since, three different players have won in Melbourne: Caroline Wozniacki, who retired during this tournament; Naomi Osaka and Kenin.

In fact, the 21-year-old became the first American, other than the Williams sisters, to reach the Australian Open final since Lindsey Davenport in 2005. Kenin also became the youngest singles champion since Maria Sharapova in 2008, which is fitting.

Both women were born in Russia. The Kenins moved to the United States in 1987. Like Sharapova, during her earlier career years, Kenin is coached by her father, Alex Kenin. Both families arrived as immigrants with little money in their pockets.

Kenin isn’t a well-known name in tennis, and her maiden slam came as somewhat of a shock, considering she faced two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza. But Kenin had scaled the rankings of the WTA in a hurry, winning her first five career titles in 2019. She ended the year ranked 14, which was her seeding in Melbourne. However, that doesn’t tell the story. Her year-end ranking in 2017 was 113. On Monday, she’s expected to rise to No. 4 in the world.

Kenin has professed wishes to be No. 1, since she was six.

“People on tour know now that I won’t give up,” Kenin said via The New York Times. “If you want to beat me, you have to really beat me. You have to finish it. No matter what the score is, I’m still going to be there fighting and doing my best to turn the match around, and I’ve done it a few times.”

She proved her point halfway through the third set of Saturday’s final. At 2-2, she went down 0-40. The next five shots, one point brought the score back to deuce, were critical. Otherwise, Muguruza would’ve gone up a break and any player, even one in her first major final, knows never to give up an advantage to a seasoned champion.

Kenin said those were the “best five shots of my life.”

Muguruza, who lost 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, praised Kenin.

“If she keeps playing like this, she proved to us that she can play very well, play very well in the important moments, which is a different story,” Muguruza said. “I think it's even more special.”

In the semifinals, Kenin beat Ashleigh Barty, Australia’s hope. She was the No. 1 player in the world, the top seed and reigning French Open champion. Had Barty gone on to win the title, she would’ve been the first Australian woman to win since 1978, when Chris O’Neil hoisted the trophy.

The French Open starts May 18, many months away. Nonetheless, Thiem has to be considered a contender there this spring. The big question: Can he take down his probable opponent, Nadal, as the Spaniard goes for lucky No. 13?

Kenin, too, will be a contender in Paris, as will Barty, Naomi Osaka, reigning Wimbledon champion Simone Halep and U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who did not compete in Melbourne due to an injury. Oh, and there’s Serena Williams, who refuses to consider retirement as she continues seeking her 24th title.

No worries for Kenin.

“If you want to beat me, you have to really beat me,” she said. “You have to finish it. No matter what the score is, I’m still going to be there fighting and doing my best to turn the match around, and I’ve done it a few times.”

By the way, Kenin beat Williams in Paris last year.

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