MELBOURNE, Australia
Unheralded American Sofia Kenin stunned world number one Ashleigh Barty to end
home hopes at the Australian Open on Thursday, as Roger Federer and Novak
Djokovic prepared for the 50th instalment of their great tennis rivalry in a
blockbuster semi-final.

Barty had sent Australian expectations soaring of a first
home-grown winner since 1978, but they came crashing to earth against the
aggressive 14th seed, who saved two set points in each set to win 7-6 (8/6),
7-5.

Moscow-born Kenin, 21, looked stunned at reaching her first
Grand Slam final, at a tournament where she has often gone unnoticed while
fellow Americans Serena Williams and 15-year-old Coco Gauff hogged the
headlines.

“I’m just speechless, I honestly can’t believe this.
I’ve dreamed about this moment since I was five years old… I’ve worked so
hard to get here,” said Kenin, who was a baby when her family moved to
America with just a few hundred dollars to her name.

“She came up with some really great shots. I knew she
wasn’t going to give it up to me — I really had to fight out here. There’s a
reason she’s number one.”

Kenin’s win came on a day when temperatures hit 38 Celsius
(100.4 Fahrenheit), prompting play to be suspended on outside courts —
following earlier problems with bushfire smoke, downpours, wind and even muddy
rain at the season’s opening Major.

The American will face another heavyweight in Saturday’s
final, with the second semi featuring Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and
Garbine Muguruza, the two-time Major-winner who is back in a hot streak of
form.

– ‘Fighter’ Federer –

Later on Rod Laver Arena, Federer and Djokovic — who have
carved up 12 of the last 14 Australian Open titles between them — will play
for a place in the final.

Djokovic, 32, leads 38-year-old Federer 26-23 in their
head-to-head, and while the Serbian has moved serenely into the last four,
Federer made it by the skin of his teeth.

He was two points from defeat against John Millman in the
third round and, incredibly, saved seven match points in his quarter-final
against Tennys Sandgren.

A groin problem during Federer’s miraculous escape against
Sandgren could also hinder his chances of making it seven titles in Melbourne
and stretching his record for Major wins to 21.

But Djokovic says Federer’s heroics against the 100th-ranked
American are exactly why the 20-time Grand Slam winner is to be feared.

“What he did was amazing, he showed me he’s one of the
best players of all time,” said Djokovic, who is targeting a record eighth
title in Melbourne.

“I mean, he never gives up. When it matters the most,
he’s focused and he plays his best tennis. He’s a great fighter.”

The other semi-final, on Friday, is between Dominic Thiem —
who shocked world number one Rafael Nadal — and Alexander Zverev, the
long-admired German talent who is into a Grand Slam last four for the first
time.

 

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