Surprise package Sofia Kenin determined to enjoy her big moment at Australian Open

Sofia Kenin is the Australian Open dark horse who has been hiding in plain sight.

Sofia Kenin is playing in her first grand slam final on Saturday. Picture: AP/Dita Alangkara

The 21-year-old American will contest her first grand slam final today when she takes on two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza at Melbourne Park.

Kenin had never previously been beyond the fourth round at a slam but she showed her big-match mentality in beating Serena Williams at the French Open last year and has risen swiftly up the rankings to 15th.

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She was also a child prodigy marked out for stardom at an early age, while she made her US Open debut at 16.

KING SLAYER: Austria's Dominic Thiem Picture: AP/Andy Wong

Kenin will break into the top 10 on Monday no matter what the outcome and would climb to seventh with victory.

Given her competitive nature and cool head so far, it would be a surprise if she did not handle the occasion with aplomb.

“I’m just going to be enjoying the moment,” she said. “You don’t experience this so often. This is so exciting. Literally butterflies.

“I’m just going to also focus on what I need to do, focus on my game. I got here, it’s time to shine, do the best I can – hopefully do something more special.”

Serbia's Novak Djokovic is going for an eighth Australian Open singles title. Picture: AP/Andy Brownbill

As with Kenin, Muguruza’s presence in the final is a surprise, but what should be more of a surprise is the fact she has dropped so far since winning her second slam title at Wimbledon in 2017.

The Spaniard has all the attributes to be a serial slam contender and has swept back into the final stages following the resumption of her partnership with former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez.

The pair worked together on a temporary basis for Muguruza’s title at SW19 but the end of her long-time association with coach Sam Sumyk allowed them to reunite permanently.

Martinez believes Muguruza’s improved fitness has been one of the keys to her excellent form.

“When she’s getting fast to the ball, everything looks good, that’s when she’s playing her best tennis,” said Martinez. “There’s no secret.”

Muguruza’s off-season included a very different physical challenge, the 26-year-old eschewing the usual tennis player’s beach holiday to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.

While Muguruza was reluctant to link the two achievements, Martinez sees parallels.

“Her stories, it’s super cold where you can barely rest and you have to continue walking, where you had to overcome your fears and also be strong to continue, I think that gives you something mentally, that’s for sure,” said the 47-year-old.

“She was stubborn enough to get there and she did it. I think that gives you something on the court where you might see something that is impossible, but everything is possible if you have the right mentality. She has the right mentality.”

Dominic Thiem, meanwhile, will try to dethrone the ‘king’ of Rod Laver Arena when he plays in his third grand slam final tomorrow.

The 26-year-old Austrian followed up his stunning win over Rafael Nadal by defeating Alexander Zverev 3-6 6-4 7-6 (3) 7-6 (4) in another tense encounter.

Once thought of as a clay-courter, Thiem has transformed himself into one of the best players in the world on hard courts and, after final losses to Nadal at the French Open the last two years, he will now take on Novak Djokovic at Melbourne Park.

The Serbian, who defeated Roger Federer on Thursday, has won all seven finals he has contested here and already holds the men’s record for most titles won.

Thiem said with a wry smile: “I’m always facing the kings of a grand slam in the final.

“We are playing in tough times, we young players. We always have to beat all these unbelievable legends.

“Of course, Rafa won Paris 12 times, Nole (Djokovic) here seven times. That’s an unbelievable achievement.

“But I try to take my experience (from) the last two major finals and try to improve myself even more.”

To reach the final at Roland Garros last June, Thiem overcame Djokovic in five sets, ending the world No 2’s hopes of winning four straight slam titles.

Of their last five meetings, the Austrian has come out on top in four – including a brilliant encounter at the ATP Finals in London in November, where Thiem went on to make the final.