No matter what happens in the Australian Open final, American women are returning to the top of the game — and they could remain there for many years to come.
American Sofia Kenin upset Ashleigh Barty — No. 1 in the world — to reach the major final, where she will face Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain. The 21-year-old Kenin has a difficult task ahead of her: Muguruza hits nasty serves and absurd shots. She dazzled against Simona Halep in the semifinals, setting up match point as she ran, slid and flicked a drop shot for a winner. Muguruza, 26, has won two Grand Slams and was No. 1 in the world in 2017; the 15th-ranked Kenin has never made it past the fourth round before. The two have played once, in Beijing last year, and Kenin won.
However the final shakes out, American fans have reason to be excited about the future. Kenin is determined, relentless and fun to watch. Cori “Coco” Gauff, just 15 years old, has already played in three majors — Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and now the Australian Open, where she lost to Kenin in the fourth round. Gauff has beaten Venus Williams twice, and she took down No. 3 seed Naomi Osaka in the third round at Melbourne. Amanda Anisimova, 18, reached the semifinals last year at the French Open, upsetting Halep along the way.
For the Americans, this new crop of talent is a relief. Since Serena Williams beat her sister Venus in the Australian Open in 2017, majors have been bleak for the U.S. Serena took a break to give birth to her daughter, and since returning, she’s played in four finals but hasn’t won a single set in any of them. Sloane Stephens, 26, won the U.S. Open in 2017 and made a second Grand Slam final at the French Open in 2018, but she has fallen off since. Madison Keys still has talent and time, at just age 24, but she lacks the court coverage to back up her power game. (She lost in the third round in Australia.)
These recent dry spells have had the Americans worried: Stephens’s win at the U.S. Open in 2017 was the last Slam won by an American woman. That’s eight straight Slams without a win, which hadn’t happened since 1998, when Lindsay Davenport won at the U.S. Open, the year before Serena won her first major at the same tournament. (At that time, the American women had gone 10 Slams without a win, according to the WTA.)
This recent drought has seemed all the more dramatic after the Williams sisters dominated women’s tennis for so many years. Many of the other stars they competed against — Justine Henin, Ana Ivanovic and Li Na — are retired. Yet the 38-year-old Serena and 39-year-old Venus have been the only American women to win multiple majors since Jennifer Capriati won her last in the 2002 Australian Open. Stephens is the only other American to win just one.
It’s hard to imagine another streak like that one happening again. But these young players show a lot of promise. And they could be ushering in a new era of women’s tennis, especially if Kenin somehow wins in Australia.
“I love this attention,” Kenin told reporters in Melbourne after beating Barty. “I’m enjoying every single moment of it.”