Tennis minds like Sofia Kenin’s don’t come around very often. Down 5-7, 0-3, and 0-30 against Jessica Pegula in the third round of the Yarra Valley Classic on Tuesday, it would’ve been all too easy for the reigning Australian Open champion to concede defeat. But like all great champions, the thought of taking the easy way out never crossed her mind. Instead, Kenin stormed back to win, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, and set up a rematch of last year’s Australian Open final against Garbiñe Muguruza.
The Spaniard has started the season in fine form, losing just five total games in victories over Alison Van Uytvanck and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. After two losses to Kenin, including one at the 2019 China Open, one would think Muguruza would like revenge.
A year ago, the world former No. 1 came out guns blazing in the final. She served well, and made hardly any mistakes to win the first set 6-4. Kenin quickly rose to the occasion from there, not only with superior tennis, but also with a superior strategy en route to a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, victory.
It’s no secret that both Kenin and Muguruza prefer their backhand wing, but unlike the latter, Kenin will only target the Muguruza backhand with an attackable shot. In the rally shown below, Kenin crushes a backhand aimed fully cross-court, opening up Muguruza’s forehand side for the clean winner.
Nearly every neutral or defensive shot is aimed either directly to Muguruza’s forehand, or deep-middle to take away potential angles. It’s unfortunate for Muguruza that Kenin’s sharp cross-court forehand is one of the game’s very best.
Muguruza can counteract a slight disadvantage from the ground with more powerful serves and returns. When given an opportunity, look for Muguruza to rip her return, as she does below.
According to the oddsmakers, Muguruza is a sizeable -195 favorite. This makes sense given her current form, but Kenin thrives as an underdog. This match is a toss-up, but I expect Kenin’s clear-cut strategy to pay dividends once again.
Kenin will not gift Muguruza many attackable backhands, negating the Spaniard’s biggest strength. Tennis is ultimately a game of matchups, and unless Muguruza blows Kenin clean off the court, expect the relentlessly competitive American to prevail.
The Pick: Sofia Kenin