Gabrine Muguruza stormed into the finals of the Australian Open after defeating former world number one Simona Halep on Thursday (January 30) in Rod Laver Arena.
The Spaniard beat world number three Romanian 7-6(8) 7-5 in the semi-finals under the hot Melbourne sun.
“I wasn’t thinking I was down, I was thinking keep going. At some point you’ll have your opportunity,” the Spaniard said while speaking about how she left when Halep was taking the lead.
The two-time major champion Muguruza will now face 14th seed Sofia Kenin who cruised to the finale by crashing world number one Ashleigh Barty’s party by 7-6(6) 7-5.
The 26-year-old, 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.
On Saturday, Muguruza, who came to Melbourne Park as an unseeded player at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in six years, will aim to become the first unseeded women’s Australian Open champion since Serena Williams in 2007.
“You don’t think like that [being a part of the final at the start of the tournament], that’s two weeks ago. You go day by day, you take each match as it comes. I have one final match on Saturday. Luckily I have 48 hours to recover and get ready for the last match. We train all our career to get ready for this match,” she added.
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 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 number one — 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.
Moscow-born Kenin’s win means the host nation’s 42-year-long wait for a home-grown Australian Open champion will go on.
(With inputs from agencies)