Women's tennis 'never been more open' as Kenin becomes latest Slam surprise
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The last five women's Grand Slams have now been won by five different players. Good luck trying to predict who triumphs at the French Open.
Sofia Kenin's three-set victory over Garbine Muguruza in Saturday's final at the Australian Open underlined just how open the women's game is.
The young American was seeded 14th in Melbourne and her best performance at a Slam prior to this was reaching the round of 16 at Roland Garros last year.
But here the fiery 21-year-old was, beating world number one and home hope Ashleigh Barty in the semi-finals and then defeating two-time Slam champion Muguruza.
A Kenin-Muguruza final was 750-1 with British bookmakers before the tournament.
Kenin's victory was the last episode in a wildly unpredictable draw in which six of the top-10 women's seeds, including Serena Williams and holder Naomi Osaka, went out in round three.
Moscow-born Kenin, who will now jump to seventh in the world and above Williams as the top-ranked American, has confidence in bucketfuls.
The unwavering belief that she was destined for the biggest stage in tennis shone through in the past fortnight in Melbourne.
Yet she was reticent when asked if she will be the one who emerges from the pack behind the 38-year-old Williams to win multiple Major titles.
"I would love to, that would be amazing," said Kenin, glass of champagne in hand after defeating Spain's Muguruza.
"Right now I still can't believe what just happened. I need to somehow come down and just let it all sink in.
"Hopefully I can just keep going, build up on everything that I've done these past two weeks, just move forward."
- Free-for-all -
There is a marked contrast between men's and women's tennis.
Last year's Grand Slam titles in the women's game were won by Osaka (Australian Open), Barty (French Open), Simona Halep (Wimbledon) and Bianca Andreescu (US Open).
Yet in the men's game Novak Djokovic triumphed at last year's Australian Open and Wimbledon, and Rafael Nadal won the French and US Opens.
Those two, along with 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, have reigned over men's tennis for the best part of two decades.
There is at least a chance for Austria's Dominic Thiem to gate-crash the "Big Three" on Sunday when he plays Djokovic in the men's Melbourne final.
But the 33-year-old Spaniard Nadal will once more be hot favourite at the French Open in May-June, having won the crown there a remarkable 12 times.
In comparison, the women's draw in Paris looks like being another bun fight.
Williams will once more be chasing a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, but it is her least-favourite surface. She may need to wait until Wimbledon if she is to equal Margaret Court's record for career Slam titles.
Defending champion Barty and former winners Halep and Muguruza will be expected to challenge at Roland Garros. Now add Kenin to the mix. Osaka has never been past round three.
Or could it be another Jelena Ostapenko, the then-47th ranked Latvian who -- much like Kenin -- came out of left field to win in 2017? She has lifted one title since.
Some argue that, Williams aside, it shows up the weakness of women's tennis. British coach Nigel Sears believes the opposite.
"I think the women's tour is very open, I felt that for quite a while now," said Sears, coach of Estonian quarter-finalist Anett Kontaveit.
"I have said quite often that I feel there are at least 35 quality players on the WTA Tour now, and any one of 20 different players could win this Slam or any of the others," he said prior to Kenin's victory.
"I think it's never been more open, I think the depth in women's tennis has improved enormously."
© 2020 AFP