MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — This, essentially, was where Sofia Kenin was going to win or lose the Australian Open final: She was down love-40 while serving at 2-all in the third set against two-time major champion Garbiñe Muguruza.
Kenin sensed this was the moment that would matter. Up in the stands of Rod Laver Arena, so did her father, Alex, who’s also her coach.
“I knew I had to take my chance,” Kenin said. “I had to be brave.”
Sure was. The 21-year-old American won the next five points, each with a winner — one an ace, the others clean groundstrokes to cap exchanges of 11 shots or more — and was on her way to becoming a Grand Slam champion.
Demonstrative as can be — whether spiking a ball, dropping her red-white-and-blue racket or slapping her thigh — and at her best when necessary, 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.
Novak Djokovic was looking weary and worn down. He trailed Dominic Thiem in the Australian Open final — miscues mounting, deficit growing.
Djokovic did what he does, though. He refused to lose, waited for a chance to pounce and found his best tennis when absolutely necessary.
Regaining his stamina and strokes, Djokovic came back to edge Thiem 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 Sunday night for an eighth Australian Open title, second in a row, and 17th Grand Slam trophy overall.
“Definitely my favorite court, my favorite stadium in the world,” Djokovic told the crowd at Rod Laver Arena during the trophy presentation.
This victory improved Djokovic’s combined record in semifinals and finals in that stadium to 16-0 and means he will return to No. 1 in the rankings, replacing Rafael Nadal in that spot.
No other man in the history of tennis has won this hard-court tournament more than six times. Only Roger Federer, with 20, and Nadal, with 19, have won more men’s Grand Slam singles trophies than Djokovic.
“Amazing achievement. Unreal what you’re doing throughout all these years,” said the fifth-seeded Thiem, who is 0-3 in major finals. “You and also two other guys, I think you brought men’s tennis to a complete new level. I’m proud and happy I can compete in these times and this period of tennis. I fell a little bit short today, but I hope I can get, soon, revenge.”
Both finalists spoke about the devastating wildfires that have killed dozens of people and millions of animals around Australia. Djokovic also mentioned the recent deaths of NBA star Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters in a helicopter crash.
Addressing Thiem, Djokovic told him: “It wasn’t meant to be tonight. Tough luck. .. You were very close to win it and you definitely have a lot more time in your career. I am sure you will definitely get one of the Grand Slam trophies. More than one.”