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Sofia Kenin wins Australian Open title after beating Garbine Muguruza – Sportsnet.ca

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MELBOURNE, Australia — This, essentially, was where Sofia Kenin was going to win or lose the Australian Open final: She was down love-40 while serving at 2-all in the third set against two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza.

Kenin sensed this was the moment that would matter. Up in the stands of Rod Laver Arena, so did her father, Alex, who’s also her coach.

“I knew I had to take my chance,” Kenin said. “I had to be brave.”

Sure was. The 21-year-old American won the next five points, each with a winner — one an ace, the others clean groundstrokes to cap exchanges of 11 shots or more — and was on her way to becoming a Grand Slam champion.

Demonstrative as can be — whether spiking a ball, dropping her red-white-and-blue racket or slapping her thigh — and at her best when necessary, the 14th-seeded Kenin won the first major final of her career Saturday by coming back to beat a fading Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at Melbourne Park.

“That’s the game I feel, like, changed things. I had to play some (of my) best tennis. I did,” Kenin said. “After that, I was on fire. I was ready to take the beautiful trophy.”

Kenin was so magnificent when it mattered the most, saving 10 of 12 break points she faced, while converting 5 of 6 that she earned.

“I’m not very happy about my performance. … At the important moments, I didn’t find my shots,” Muguruza said. “I think she found her shots. I didn’t.”

Muguruza was visited by a trainer after the second set and her movement wasn’t ideal down the stretch. Nor was her serving: She double-faulted eight times, including three in the last game, one on championship point.

“A little bit lack of energy,” Muguruza said.

For quite some time, Kenin was overlooked and underappreciated, drawing much less attention than other young tennis players from the U.S., such as 15-year-old Coco Gauff — Kenin beat her in the fourth round this week — and 18-year-old Amanda Anisimova.

Maybe it was because Kenin is only 5-foot-7 (1.70 metres). Maybe it was because she went into last season with this resume: ranked outside the top 50, yet to get past the third round of a major, yet to win a tour-level title.

Kenin will be taken more seriously now. By everyone. She is the youngest Australian Open champion since 2008, when Maria Sharapova won the hard-court tournament at age 20.

Kenin, who eliminated No. 1 Ash Barty in the semifinals, is expected to rise to No. 7 in Monday’s WTA rankings, the youngest American to make her debut in the top 10 since Serena Williams in 1999.

“Those people that didn’t believe in her, they had very valid reasons not to, because she’s always been the smallest one,” Alex Kenin said the day before the final. “But I guess, thank God, I saw something that they didn’t. Because I know her better. I feel pretty happy. I guess I was right.”

In the men’s final on Sunday, defending champion Novak Djokovic will face Dominic Thiem, a 26-year-old Austrian who was the runner-up to Rafael Nadal at the French Open the past two years. Djokovic seeks a record-extending eighth title at Melbourne Park and 17th major trophy overall; Thiem is trying to become the first man born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam title.

Kenin was born in 1998 in Moscow to Russian parents; they had moved to New York in the 1980s, but returned to be with family for the birth of their daughter. A few months later, they went back to the U.S. for good; Kenin grew up in Florida and still makes her home there.

Muguruza came into the day with a far more formidable record. She has been ranked No. 1 and won the French Open in 2016 and Wimbledon in 2017 — the only woman to beat each Williams sister in a Grand Slam final.

But she tumbled out of the top 30 last season because of so-so results. She was trying to become only the third unseeded champion at the Australian Open in the professional era, which began in 1968.

Muguruza put on her game face from the moment she walked through the tunnel leading to the court. She didn’t even spare a smile for pre-match photos up at the net with a grinning Kenin.

And when she made her first move in front, breaking to go up 2-1 after 15 minutes, Muguruza just tucked her racket under her left arm like an old-school commuter with a folded newspaper on the way to catch a subway train.

Kenin makes her mood obvious at all times.

After lost points, she bounced her racket or kicked it, rolled her eyes, muttered to herself. After winning points, she would pump a fist and scream “Come on!” — or, when she went up 5-2 in the second set, Kenin grabbed a tennis ball and slammed it off the blue court. Did that again later, too, as the end neared.

While Muguruza generally stuck to her preferred tactic of hit-’em-hard, harder, hardest — not a ton of nuance — and moving forward when an opening demanded it, Kenin put more shape and spin on balls, and turned to her favourite element, drop shots, when possible.

Muguruza took the last two games of the opening set to move in front.

“I was obviously devastated,” Kenin would say later.

But that is where the match’s direction switched completely.

Kenin’s play elevated, yes, but Muguruza’s dropped. Her serve percentage and speed dipped. Her footwork was problematic.

Kenin broke to go up 3-1 and again to force a third set.

That’s when Kenin stood her ground at that key juncture at 2-all in the third, holding there and then breaking immediately.

“A very important moment,” Muguruza called it.

Well, there’s an understatement.

Soon enough, Kenin was kissing the trophy, just as her father had kissed her on the cheek right before the walk from the hallway outside the locker room to the court.

When Kenin entered the interview room for her post-match news conference, she was handed a glass of bubbly. She’s barely old enough to drink legally back home, but yes, she is old enough.

Her mom stayed in Florida and awaited a phone call to find out about the match — too nervous to watch in person or on TV.

When it was time for Kenin’s on-court speech, Dad called her over for a bit of advice.

“He just told me a few things what to say,” Kenin said. “I told him, ‘I know what to say. I’m 21. I can do this.”’

What can’t she do right now?

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool

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Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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