Tennis Prose



Kenin Dominates at AO 2020

By Jayita A. Belcourt

Sofia Kenin is not your average tennis player. And in tonight’s Australian Open Final against two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza, the world was able to see just why. Yes sure, this talented 21-year old has always been feisty and determined to win like most other rising stars – but what sets her apart is this unshakable self-belief, brutal competitiveness and unshackled conviction to be the best that has been burning since she was just five. Yes even at this young age, the Russian born talent knew she wanted to be amongst the inner realms of the world’s tennis elite, and it is this reason that her parents moved to the USA and placed her under the watchful eye of coach Rick Macci.

Macci, who also helped shape the William sisters for many of their formative teenage years, has been a big fan of the American for most of her life and believed Kenin had what it took to be a top player. Upon their first meet and training session, Macci described her as the “scariest little creature” he had “ever taught”. Fast forward 16 years and of her reaching the Australian Open finals, Macci’s tune had not changed saying “she expected this. I think (her father) expected it. I expected it. This doesn’t surprise me, she’ll be disappointed if she doesn’t win.”

And she did not disappoint. In what can only be described as one of the gutsiest performances ever witnessed on Rod Laver Arena, Kenin fought back her emotions to realize her lifelong dream of becoming a grand slam champion by defeating Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 at Melbourne Park.

Whilst the first two sets saw exciting exchanges between the two players, it was when the match went to one set-all that the play of Kenin went to another level. Serving at 2-all in the third set, Kenin was able to dig deep despite being down love-40 to claw her way back into the game. Astonishingly, she won the next five points – each with a winner, one on ace and the other groundstrokes to secure a lead 3-2. And this game, behind a veil of tears, grit and determination, is where Sofia Kenin was able to chart her way to victory.

Indeed, Sofia Kenin is no stranger to winning. After ousting Serena Williams at Rolland Garros last year R3 and enjoying the perks of a second week stay, Kenin had already made her announcement to the tennis world that she was not only here to stay, but here to dominate. After all, overcoming Williams is no easy feat and anyone who can add this victory to their portfolio, is undoubtedly one with incredible talent and drive. And it was this win against Williams, that Kenin identifies as the catalyst for her upward trajectory.

“I feel like that was the first time I experienced getting to the second week [at Rolland Garros,” said Kenin at the Australian Open earlier in the week.

“Obviously, it felt really different. It’s so much different. But, yeah, I feel like that match really changed things. I obviously saw that I can play on this level, I could play with the best. Of course, it just happens to be Serena, my idol. Yeah, it was a really exciting match. I feel like after that, things took off.”

And what a career take-off it has been indeed. For 21-year old Kenin, who had never gone past the fourth round at any major before this year, had her priorities clear from the moment she arrived in Australia and was encouraged by her impressive forth round win over fellow American, 15-year old Coco Gauff. Kenin said “I want to show who I am, show my best tennis, show why I’m there, why I belong. I’m doing that.”

Yet, what makes Kenin’s success at this year’s Australian Open so unique, is that the 21-year had attracted few moments in the limelight or yielded little attention from the media until her dominating performance over Gauff. Perhaps even so, the attention may have only occurred because she beat the USA’s 15-year old rising star, who is “best buddies” and dances with Serena Williams. Come semi-finals against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, no one expected the 14th seed to topple the world number on home turf. But that is exactly what she did. In little over 90 minutes, the confident American dug deep and kept her composure to save three set points to secure the match 7-6, 6-4.  Of her experience, Kenin was able to remain very grounded and realistic.

“I really had to establish myself to show everyone who I am. I think a big part that got me here is my family were there for me. It was obviously tough. Like I said, people didn’t really believe in me and everything. But they believed in me, especially my dad, since he’s been with me through this incredible journey. Yeah, I think that’s obviously helped me,” Kenin said.

“I’m rising, so I’m trying to somehow keep my game stable, just play with stability, just play each match one match at a time. Of course, I’m really happy. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am. I’ve done a really hard pre-season. I knew that it’s going to help me and it’s going to pay off. Thank God it’s paying off here.”

And what a pay-off in-deed. After her maiden title at the Australian Open, Kenin’s rankings will now shoot up to world number 7 and she will be the top ranked USA player in contention for a spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But above all, is the realisation of a hard-earned dream coming to fruition. Clearly elated by the outcome tonight, the 21-year old struggled to hold back her emotions of what her life, and family sacrifices and support had entailed, to make tonight possible.

“My dream has officially come true, I cannot even describe the feeling. I have worked so hard and I’m just so grateful to be standing here” Kenin told the crowd. “Dreams come true. So if you have a dream, go for it, and it’s going to come true.”

Yes, what an inspiration for not only the tennis community, but the world indeed.

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  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 2:39 pm

    Thiem FAR from Muster. He’ll need 29 more titles and the second best clay win streak in history, then we can talk.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    In his dreams, not in real life 🙂

  • Harold · February 2, 2020 at 2:49 pm

    Muster 2nd best on Clay??? Barely top 10, and that would be very generous. Not even top 5 since the 90’s..WOW!!

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    Can’t throw Muster under a bus. He’s just too darn good. Thiem is not a better player as of now. He’s very good, he’s got a lot of work to do, especially to handle finals against the world’s greatest competitors.

    Muster was ferocious during an exceptional period in tennis – lots of great champions. There aren’t three great champions as there are right now, but Muster has plenty of street credibility.

    I understand how tempting it is to say that Muster wasn’t great. It’s not true – he was great. Only Nadal eclipsed him on clay, and Muster off clay was very good and, if he didn’t have the accident in Miami, he had pinned between two cars while taking things out of the trunk of his car, he would have been number one a lot sooner.

    Here’s how he was described the day of the accident in his semifinal in Miami with Yannick Noah (another French Open champion): “Muster is the type of player who can be given no second opportunities”.

    Anyways, I find it interesting that sometimes the board wants to diminish past players that were not just good, but excellent. You’re welcome to do that, but those guys are going to the Hall of Fame. At this point, Thiem isn’t – he might, but he has to have a whole career first and see how that settles.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 2:57 pm

    Not sure the Muster bashing…he was #1. He wasn’t Jack Sock. I see where I made the error Harold is point out.

    Anyways, let’s not diminish the guy so much. He had a 40 match win streak on clay and then a 38 match win streak on clay a year later. So I think from what the records show that puts him behind Nadal, Borg, and Vilas, so #4 all time for clay win streaks.

    He also won 12 titles in one year. Was number one on two occasions.

    So throw him under the bus. But remember…not an easy guy to throw under the bus…and his record is something that any player would want. Including Thiem.

  • Harold · February 2, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    Lendl, Wilander and Kurrten were better clay court players..Sorry he got hurt..

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 3:31 pm

  • Jeff · February 2, 2020 at 3:36 pm

    And to Harold I will add Federer and Djokovic as better clay players than Muster as well. Probably Rios also. Muster was 2-9 against Pete Sampras and lost to him in Roland Garros. Also 1-4 in Slam matches vs. Jim Courier, including 0-2 at Roland Garros. Muster beat Agassi once in Paris but when Agassi was dating Streisand.

    Muster’s Slam results simply don’t compare to losing two French finals to Rafa Nadal and one Australian Open to Djokovic.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Wow. Too much making stuff up.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    Go ahead and put Borg, Vilas down, too.

  • catherine · February 2, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    Back to Kenin and the unfortunate choice of dress – I don’t know if Sofia was consulted but she’s 21 and really shouldn’t be forced to wear anything she didn’t want to. The whole glamour thing is a bit strange. That dress didn’t fit her either. At Wimbledon the women’s winner gets to choose from a selection I think, for the Champion’s Dinner.

    When Angie won the AO she jumped in the river.

  • Hartt · February 2, 2020 at 4:28 pm

    I hadn’t seen a proper photo of the dress, just one of Sofia sitting on the grass. But when you see the whole thing, it is quite strange, especially for the daytime.

    But Sofia said she was enjoying the attention.

  • Harold · February 2, 2020 at 4:37 pm

    And then in no particular order except that they’re better on clay than Muster


    Now maybe Muster joins the conversation

  • catherine · February 2, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    Actually the bodice is kind of coming off and she’s not wearing anything underneath. Too much makeup as well. The WTA needs a decent photo op/wardrobe consultant 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 7:13 pm

    Kenin’s not used to this. But she has $2.8 million now to go on a spending spree and maybe hire some wardrobe consults as suggested here. It was interesting how Kenin changed after she won the Gauff match, she truly was thrilled to be talking about her ambition and her tennis and to get more attention. It cuts both ways, but she has earned the spotlight.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 7:22 pm

    Don’t care what Kenin wears, she’s a superstar, she’s a champion, Keninmania is here whether the media does it’s job or not.

  • Hartt · February 2, 2020 at 7:54 pm

    Cilic posted a very cute photo of his new baby son with the tiniest tennis racquet.

    Officially a team of 3. 👨‍👩‍👦 Thanks for all the well wishes. Mama and baby boy are doing great. This decade is looking like it’s going to be the best one yet.”

  • Jon King · February 2, 2020 at 11:02 pm

    Yeah, Keninmania won’t be a thing. Spent the weekend going between 2 tennis tournaments with lots of girls from ages 8-17 and their parents and coaches. Zero mention, no one cared.

    When Sloane won the US Open, tons of buzz. Gauff? Forget it, talk was constant even about her doubles matches with McNally. Madison Keys, lots of talk when she wins any match. Giorgi got talked about how her mom makes her a new dress every tournament. Venus and Serena talk is a thing when they are active. Anisimova…oh wow, did you see she was practicing at Saviano’s last month???

    Kenin…absolutely zero, nada, like the match was never even played. For whatever reason, nothing about her is of interest to tennis kids or parents…unlike most other players. And if it does not interest them, it sure won’t be of interest to casual fans.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 11:59 pm

    All the press is Kenin! That was a thrilling, thrilling run. She impressed anyone with a pen or labtop whose job it is to write about tennis – they were stunned or just all out impressed (as they have been watching her, some of them at least like Pete Bodo and Daren Cahill and Chris Clarey) for a while now.

    Anyways for what it was worth, that was a mammoth win by Kenin. I haven’t seen anything like that one in a while. Ostapenko’s win was a shock win, but I don’t think it was the same kind of slam victory. Impressive, but not like this one, dicing through two slam winners to claim a trophy like that. The Bartoli Wimbledon win was a big one, but still she wasn’t flying under the radar as a top player.

    It is like the Chang win like Scoop said! But even then – maybe still a little different. My brain isn’t able to match it to many matches – maybe Rafter’s first US Open win but even then Rafter was known, folks saw him coming.

    Maybe Seles 1990. I think that would be close as a courage first kind of title. Who else has done this in recent memory, or at least the last thirty years?

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 12:01 am

    Folks saw Andreescu coming, too. The Kenin win was almost impossible – replicating it WILL BE TOUGH.

  • catherine · February 3, 2020 at 12:56 am

    Jon/Andrew – you can’t both be right surely. Either Kenin has made absolutely no impact or she’s the greatest thing since…..the last greatest thing.

    She’ll need to follow this up. And actually she’s been around a while. Even I’d heard of her, although I can’t say I find her rivetingly interesting. But that could change.

  • catherine · February 3, 2020 at 1:08 am

    Jon – who do girls talk about ? Which players are their faves ? Do they watch big tournaments regularly ? I’d like to know.

    I suppose for a girl of 12 a player in their 20s must seem to have one foot in the grave. Had anyone even heard of Sofia’s opponent ?

  • catherine · February 3, 2020 at 1:15 am

    Andrew – Steffi won her Grand Slam when she was 18. That was pretty good. She didn’t come out of nowhere but she moved from being very promising to doing the impossible in a year. So winning the USO at 21 is pretty good, but no more manias please.

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 10:37 am

    BIANCAMANIA!!! So long as she somehow gets through this injury and the one after that and after that 🙁

    Ummm…listen, only here and among some tennis reporters does Kenin get any kudos at all. That was quite a performance the last two weeks. I’m sure by Indian Wells we’ll be talking about Svitolina’s marvelous victory or how Madison Keys is playing like she means it.

    The WTA is so competitive that as one big tennis coach said, 35 players are all in contention for the biggest titles in the sport every time they are in the draw. Maybe it’s more like 16 people but that it FEELS like there are that many people with a chance shows what we’ve known now for a good five years.

    Players on the WTA feel they can win big titles. And that feeling isn’t just a sensation, it’s a real thing. Even I picked Muguruza to win the final…picked Barty to win the semifinal…wasn’t sure if Kenin would make it through Gauff given the stakes and Gauff’s leveling of proven champ Osaka.

    So wouldn’t surprise me if she loses first round of every tournament from here through the WTA finals. Or if somehow we have a Bencic revival, or something else we didn’t see coming.

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 10:44 am

    Graf, to me, a whole other level – a teenage prodigy suddenly up-ending the entire field with a new power game.

    My thing is that, in this free for all WTA era, the pre-tournament picks weren’t Kenin, at all – she was seen as a potential dark horse, and a few knowledgeable tennis reporters like Pete Bodo and Cahill thought very highly of her. That’s kind of it, everyone arrived to the party only after the party was over. There was an idea settling in that, even though the WTA is like a carnival, or circus, that Osaka, Andreescu were heading for a rivalry, that Barty was an champ with a lovely all court game, that maybe Pliskova would get over herself, Bencic was back (…)

    Well, all that went out the window. Andreescu was still nursing her injury (thankfully, a good call), Bencic got clocked, total wipe-out, by Kontaveit (it was Kontaveit’s coach who I think said 35 players could win a slam at any moment now), Osaka got Gauff-ed, Pliskova was herself, Barty couldn’t meet the moment…

    Even Kenin was shocked she won. That’s how shocking her win was. She was in such a zone that part of her knew it would win this huge title and the other part of her was catching up to the reality that it already happened.

  • catherine · February 3, 2020 at 11:04 am

    And Kontaveit got wiped out herself – and I’d be surprised if Svitolina makes much of a comeback from where she’s heading ranking-wise. Mugs overwhelmed her – I was surprised. Is Elina one of those players who for some obscure reason simply doesn’t progress ? She’s tried coaching changes, nothing is working. Monfils ? This will be a decisive year for her I think.

    Kenin will stay in the top 10, Osaka is on the edge of leaving it. Kerber could be out of top 20. She is actually 20, with a red arrow.

    Waiting for Bianca….

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 11:24 am

    GEMS life…will it survive bad tennis? TT will know…

  • catherine · February 3, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    TT reveals the important news that Mugs is launching a personal jewellery line – the essential move for any player aspiring to brand herself – see Serena W. Let’s hope that Garbine’s exploration of these exciting commercial opportunities don’t distract her from the business on court.

    Make hay while the sun shines Garbi 🙂

  • Hartt · February 3, 2020 at 1:09 pm

    It is sad to hear that the girls and their parents weren’t talking about Kenin. I hope she wins multiple Slams, and then she can’t be ignored.

    There is a feeling that about 16 women are capable of winning a Slam. I may never try to predict a female winner ever again!

    I certainly did not foresee the Sofia AO title, but I was very impressed with her at the Rogers Cup. It took Bianca in the SFs to stop Sofia’s run there.

  • Hartt · February 3, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    If there were an award for the most incompetent tennis organization, I think the WTA would win it. And with bodies like the ITF that is saying something!

    Stefanie Myles has an in-depth look at the last-minute cancellation of the WTA tourney that was meant to replace Budapest. The reason? The WTA did not ensure that the venue was available! This means that many of the players who were scheduled to play it are now scrambling for an alternative. Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up!

    “Tennis.Life got a look at it. And it very clearly states that the tournament will be played at the Főnix Csarnok hall, an 8,500-seat arena in Debrecen.

    There was only one problem – the WTA appears not to have confirmed this with … the venue.

    When the venue management put out a comment to that effect, noting that the venue had bookings during that period, that’s when the news first started seeping out.”

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    No botch by the WTA would surprise at this point. Jon, how did your daughter do? Was this her first tournament back after the two year hiatus?

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 4:14 pm

    Andreescu vs Kenin was a very good match. Showed what Andreescu was capable of, along with every match she played since the Indian Wells tournament began last year!

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    Muguruza and the jewelry, wow what great news. I hope it is inspired by the Himalayas with a big GM etched into 14K or whatever is going these days in the gold-plated dept.

    As the saying goes, do whatever you want with your hard-won earnings, but as goes unsaid, that’s pretty funny. Glad Muguruza either has no business sense or some kind of shrewd business sense about the market for Muguruza products.

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    Does every player Kenin and Mugs beat now get a pass because they lost to the eventual champ?

    I’m afraid Muchova didn’t get a pass. She lost to the comeback kid Cici Bellis. Inevitably the “Is this Muchova’s Moment?” thoughts have evaporated. Now it’s, “Who’s Muchova, again? Where’s she from? Is she any good?”

    (Probably goes for the rest of the field…oh the short attention span of sports fans…)

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    The WTA event botch is just FUNNY, speaks for itself.

  • Hartt · February 3, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Yes, Andreescu vs Kenin was a very good match, although Bianca finally won a match in SS in that tourney. Seems to me she had several 3 set matches before that.

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Caught the Tennis Podcast today for the women’s final. They were out of words. I think by the finals it’s as if they’re all tennis-ed out!

  • catherine · February 4, 2020 at 1:42 am

    Andrew – jewellery is very important in the personal representation department. But ‘gold-plated’ ? Never. Mugs goes for the true stuff. She has quite a following glamour-wise and probably does this stuff better than any other player, apart from Serena. Scrubbed up, she actually looks like a model. BTW, Kilimanjaro isn’t in the Himalayas if that’s what you mean. But who knows ? Mugs on K2, Everest being a walk in the park.

    Jewellery can send messages – Kerber dumped the necklace she’s worn for a decade (or did she just lose it ?)in favour of a new gold piece. Does this signal a farewell to tennis ? And what about male adornments ? Your wear your wealth around your neck.

  • Andrew Miller · February 4, 2020 at 10:40 am

    Muguruza is great, she’s a tear heart out and stomp of it kind of player. I appreciate her abuse of the many male coaches in her life. (joke incoming) It’s refreshing to see someone tear someone down a peg on camera for everyone to see. No one does I will shame you, oh minion coach, better than G.M.

  • Andrew Miller · February 4, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    Muguruza: a James Bond villain 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 4, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Muguruza calls the shots. Sumyk could have fled the scene any day he wanted to but he stuck around and sucked it up. His choice. She had every right to emasculate him. He had every choice to run for the hills or take it. He took it.

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