Sofia Kenin ousts top-ranked Ash Barty to reach Australian Open final

Sofia Kenin is the first American woman to beat the No. 1 player at any major since Serena Williams topped sister Venus at Wimbledon in 2002. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 January 2020

Sofia Kenin ousts top-ranked Ash Barty to reach Australian Open final

  • Ash Barty was hardly at her best Thursday, especially at the most crucial moments
  • Sofia Kenin will go up against either No. 4 Simona Halep or unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza

MELBOURNE: Sofia Kenin never flinched.
Not when she was twice a point from dropping the opening set of her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open. Not when she was twice a point from dropping the second set, either.
And now the American is into her first major final at age 21 — and she beat the woman ranked No. 1 to get there.
Kenin came back in each set to stop home hope Ash Barty’s bid to give Australia a long-awaited singles champion at Melbourne Park and pull out a 7-6 (6), 7-5 victory on a stiflingly hot Thursday.
“I was telling myself: ‘I believe in myself. If I lose the set, I’m still going to come out and believe,’” said the 14th-seeded Kenin, who never had been past the fourth round at a major. “Yeah, I really did a great job with it. I didn’t give up.”
This was not Barty’s first foray onto this stage: She won the French Open last June, beating Kenin along the way.
But Barty was hardly at her best Thursday, especially at the most crucial moments, perhaps burdened by the task of trying to become the first Australian woman since 1980 to get to the final of the country’s Grand Slam.
“Unfortunately, couldn’t quite scrap enough to get over the line,” said Barty, who held her niece on her lap at the post-match news conference. “Just didn’t play the biggest points well enough to win.”
Instead, Kenin is the first American other than a Williams sister to reach the Australian Open final since Lindsay Davenport in 1995. And Kenin is the first American woman to beat the No. 1 player at any major since Serena topped Venus at Wimbledon in 2002.
“She has the ability to adapt,” Barty said. “She’s extremely confident at the moment, as well.”
Those inside the sport know. But Kenin has been overshadowed by some of the many other American women making waves in recent years.
“I mean, yeah, I know people haven’t really paid attention much to me in the past. I had to establish myself, and I have,” Kenin said. “Of course, now I’m getting the attention, which I like it. Not going to lie.”
Kenin, who was born in Russia and moved to Florida as a baby, burst onto the scene in 2019 by winning three singles titles, upsetting Serena Williams in the third round at Roland Garros, and soaring from No. 52 to No. 12 in the rankings.
She didn’t face a seeded player in this tournament until Thursday, but did eliminate 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff in the fourth round.
On Saturday, Kenin will go up against either No. 4 Simona Halep or unseeded Garbiñe Muguruza. That pair of two-time major champions and former No. 1s faced each other in Thursday’s second semifinal.
Barty and Kenin stepped out in Rod Laver Arena in the early afternoon under a cloudless sky and a vibrant sun. The temperature topped 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in the first set, 20 to 25 (10 to 15) degrees hotter than it’s been for much of a chillier-than-usual 1½ weeks so far at Melbourne Park.
Barty braced herself by wearing an ice towel around her neck at changeovers.
In addition to making it uncomfortable for players and fans alike, the conditions caused balls to zip through the air and fly off rackets, rendering it that much harder to control shots. Add that to some jitters, and neither woman was at her best in the opening set.
Barty’s one-handed slice backhand was not as reliable as it normally is. Kenin’s movement and groundstrokes seemed to lack their usual verve.
It took Kenin 43 minutes to register just one forehand winner, while 11 of her initial 14 points resulted from unforced errors by Barty.
Kenin loves to deliver drop shots, luring her opponent to the net, and follow them up with perfectly parabolic lobs, and she used that combination a few times. But otherwise, she and Barty both were making all sorts of mistakes.
After one lost point, Kenin hit herself in the thigh. On the next, she flubbed a high volley and dropped her racket to the ground. Up in the stands, Kenin’s father, Alexander, who is also her coach, put his hands on his head.
Hours later, he could smile as he looked back at the big win and ahead to what’s next.
“The basic plan that we developed, we stuck to it, and it looked like it worked,” Dad said.
Asked what he thought it will be like to see his daughter participate in her first Grand Slam final, he replied: “Never been there, so I don’t know. Let’s see.”
Barty had nearly twice as many winners as Kenin in the first set, 22-12, thanks in large part to eight aces. She gathered more total points, too: 46-44. But that doesn’t matter at all in tennis, of course.
Barty was a point from taking that set when she led 6-4 in the tiebreaker after slapping a 78 mph second serve for a forehand return winner, prompting Kenin to bounce her racket off the blue court and shake her head.
Maybe that helped release some tension, because Kenin wouldn’t lose another point in the set.
Barty broke early in the second and led 5-3, then served for it at 5-4, but stumbled once more, giving away the last three games.
Kenin now will climb into the top 10 of the rankings. One more win, and she’ll achieve something even more significant: The right to call herself a Grand Slam champion.
“She deserves that respect,” Barty said, “and she deserves the recognition.”


Liverpool make U-turn over furlough scheme after clubs slammed

Updated 06 April 2020

Liverpool make U-turn over furlough scheme after clubs slammed

  • Liverpool faced stinging criticism from fans and former players after revealing over the weekend that they wanted to use the UK government’s furlough scheme
  • The fierce backlash sparked a sudden climbdown as Liverpool CEO Peter Moore wrote an open letter to supporters announcing they would no longer pursue the furlough route

LONDON: Liverpool were forced to apologize as the Premier League club ditched their controversial plan to furlough non-playing staff during the coronavirus on Monday, while FIFA urged players and clubs to reach agreement over wage reductions.
Liverpool faced stinging criticism from fans and former players after revealing over the weekend that they wanted to use the UK government’s furlough scheme.
Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s US-based owners, wanted to put around 200 staff on enforced leave during the pandemic while the government paid 80 percent of their wages.
Fellow top-flight teams Tottenham, Newcastle, Bournemouth and Norwich have already furloughed staff, but it was table-toppers Liverpool — with pre-tax profits of £42 million ($51.7 million) for the 2018-19 season — who came in for the most criticism, in part due to their reputation as a club with a strong bond to the working-class community on Merseyside.
The fierce backlash sparked a sudden climbdown as Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore wrote an open letter to supporters announcing they would no longer pursue the furlough route.
“We have consulted with a range of key stakeholders as part of a process aimed at achieving the best possible outcome for all concerned,” Moore said.
“We have opted to find alternative means despite our eligibility to apply for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
“We believe we came to the wrong conclusion last week to announce that we intended to apply to the Coronavirus Retention Scheme and furlough staff due to the suspension of the Premier League football calendar, and are truly sorry for that.”
Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher tweeted: “Well done @PeterMooreLFC @LFC a big mistake initially & thankfully now it’s been put right.”
With the Premier League postponed indefinitely because of the virus, Manchester City, bankrolled by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour, said they would not be using the government’s job retention scheme, with Manchester United set to follow their example.
Liverpool’s U-turn came as England’s top-flight teams, among the richest in the world, were under increasing scrutiny, with government ministers warning bosses and players they should “think carefully” over their next moves.
The highest-paid Premier League players such as Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne command eye-watering salaries, reportedly nearing £20 million ($25 million) a year.
FIFA on Monday urged clubs and players to reach agreement on taking wage reductions in order to protect clubs who are suffering financial damage, sources at world football’s governing body said.
It also recommended that players’ contracts be extended until the end of the interrupted football seasons and that the transfer window should not open until that time.
The call from FIFA comes as Premier League clubs are locked in talks with players and their representatives about taking pay cuts.
The English top flight is lagging behind other European leagues.
In Spain, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid players have agreed to pay cuts of 70 percent.
Many politicians have urged action from the Premier League and in a poll conducted by British polling company YouGov last week, 92 percent of respondents said they backed a pay cut.
But some leading players resent the political pressure. Former England captain Wayne Rooney has criticized the government and the Premier League for placing footballers in a “no-win” situation.
“In my opinion it is now a no-win situation,” Rooney said in a newspaper column. “Whatever way you look at it, we’re easy targets.”
In the latest sign of the financial crisis as a result of the coronavirus, England manager Gareth Southgate and the Football Association’s top earners have agreed to take wage cuts of up to 30 percent.