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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  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Kenin winning this title is the most astounding American tennis achievement since Chang at Roland Garros or Capriati winning her first major in Melbourne. This ranks right up there. Historic moment in American tennis.

  • Hartt · February 1, 2020 at 9:09 am

    In her press conference Sofia said she hadn’t been able to check her social media, which was blowing up. But she knew she’d had congratulations from Bianca, Billie Jean and Kim.

    Safina has been a big supporter, and there were videos showing the two hugging after Sofia’s matches.

  • catherine · February 1, 2020 at 9:21 am

    Ok – is it Sonya or Sofia ?

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Is Safina involved with Kenin in some kind of assistant coaching capacity? Or just a friend/supporter?

  • Harold · February 1, 2020 at 9:40 am

    How much will the USTA Fed Cup team pay Kenin to say she is tired, so Coco G can play singles.. Riske will just watch silently..

  • Hartt · February 1, 2020 at 9:41 am

    A poster said she prefers Sofia for official stuff, and that her family and friends call her Sonya. Mattek-Sands, who has played doubles with her calls her “Peter”, although Bethanie said Sofia is not keen on that. 🙂

  • Hartt · February 1, 2020 at 9:42 am

    Scoop, as far as I know, Safina is purely a friend/supporter. She sat directly behind Sofia’s father in the final.

  • Harold · February 1, 2020 at 9:43 am

    During the final, Evert talking women power players, Serena and Coco.. do they get upgraded rooms or meal vouchers every time they sneak Gauffs name in..

    Lenin’s win will not stop the Coco hype train

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Harold, ESPN, USTA, all the media powers that be want Cocoa Gauff to be the next American superstar. Didn’t you know? Kenin just got lucky. They will try to push Kenin aside quickly. The Cocoa parade will march on. One thing we know for sure, the media is on Cocoa’s side in this, not Kenin’s. Kenin will have to be very tough for what she is going to face in the future. The cheap shots about her looks have already begun around here. Which I denounce vehemently, Kenin is your typical pretty American girl next door. Anybody who mocks her looks deserves a triple kick in the ass.

  • Jon King · February 1, 2020 at 9:53 am

    Awesome win for Kenin!!

  • Jon King · February 1, 2020 at 10:01 am

    Scoop, absolutely agree that the media and many fans will want to push Kenin out of the attention and return to Gauff, Anisimova as soon as they can.

    But she and dad are not going anywhere. They will keep grinding, stay stable as she says.

  • Michael in the UK · February 1, 2020 at 10:01 am

    A terrific final! What a pleasure to see a women’s final go to 3 exciting sets.
    Brilliant, gutsy and clever tennis from Kenin, my new favourites player along with Mikael Ymer on the men’s side.
    My prediction for tomorrow: Thiem will beat Djokovic in 4.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 10:05 am

    Kenin does everything better than Gauff. She also competes with more intensity but she harnesses it differently. She is a better fighter. Right now Kenin is the best player in the world. Let’s see if she becomes complacent or she hungers for more. You would expect her to be overwhelmed by this conquest, she had never even been in a major quarter before. But the upset of Serena in Paris surely prepared her well for this now permamnent residence in the exclusive zip code of superstardom.

  • catherine · February 1, 2020 at 10:08 am

    Scoop – Kenin isn’t your typical pretty American girl next door. How could she possibly be ? Wouldn’t it be better to accept her for what she is and not try to put her in some stereotyped category which is essentially false ?

    And I hope I’m not included in those who mock her looks – I just said she’s not glamourous, which is a compliment in my view.

    And where did Cocoa come from ? Seems strange to me. Has she changed her name ?

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 10:09 am

    The rumors are Anisimova is involved with Kyrgios. Good for her, but good for her tennis career?

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Kenin is your typical high school cheerleader kind of girl.

  • Hartt · February 1, 2020 at 10:25 am

    I am so tired with all this discussion about female players’ looks. This is not a beauty contest.

    If we must fuss about players’ looks, I want equal time for the men! At least when women fans go on about a male player’s looks we do it in a spirit of fun, not taking it very seriously. Like the poster who uses an image of lips for Khachanov. 🙂

  • Andrew Miller · February 1, 2020 at 10:31 am

    Jayita Belcourt’s piece, best on Kenin I’ve read. Superb writing. A tribute to the two players Kenin Muguruza, and to the Aussie. Thanks for doing this.

  • Harold · February 1, 2020 at 10:33 am

    For the ladies: Ugliest guy in Tennis?

  • Andrew Miller · February 1, 2020 at 10:34 am

    How’s WTA going to market this one? “Technically superior and more knowledgeable player decimates WTA field and ruins our marketing efforts”

  • Andrew Miller · February 1, 2020 at 10:41 am

    As to grandiose statements, I’ll say it a hundred thousand times: right now, and for several years now, and possible for half a decade already, every WTA player has felt they have a chance. And that has played out with players taking turns at the championship podium.

    What’s exciting, and I feel like I am invoking Dan Markowitz right now, this is a multi-player contest for slams including Osaka, Muguruza, Andreescu, Kenin, Barty, Halep, possibly Kerber, and many others.

    That’s the field that has taken over – Serena Williams still looms as a legend in the draw, but has been unable to find enough in her game when challenged by competitors who have less and less to lose, and has not been a threat for a long time to “win every slam” – she isn’t Sharapova, but she isn’t herself.

    So, the WTA remains the most competitive tour and the tour with the any given day feeling. Kenin has announced she is here to compete (and anyone paying attention should have seen this). Much as Andreescu did other players will take notice and the X will form on her back.

    She should relish this incredibly well deserved title. But as to the field it says the same thing: WTA tennis is great, and we shouldn’t expect dominance from anyone, anytime soon.

  • Andrew Miller · February 1, 2020 at 10:42 am

    Favorite thing: TP commenters doing the WTA marketing job for them with the emphasis on looks. Glad everyone here has doubled down on the WTA approach of “looks first, performance second or last”

  • catherine · February 1, 2020 at 10:43 am

    Hartt – this is a male dominated site, as we’ve mentioned before – you and I are the only women here, unless someone’s hiding under a pseudonym. So unfortunately the perspective tends to be towards what we might call the ‘male gaze’ (yes I do know all the right words although I don’t like them) – thus the chat tends towards that kind of judgement.

    I think Djokovic sometimes looks downright peculiar with his stretched neck 🙂

  • Jon King · February 1, 2020 at 10:44 am

    Kenin won a major is all that matters right now.

    Ad agencies and media know what most people consider good looks, that part is out of our hands. A young Sharapova got tons more endorsements than Serena and other players. Brad Pitt got more movie roles than better actors who were not as handsome. It is what it is.

    Kenin won’t be marketed. The Gauff hype will return next major. And if Anisimova starts getting deep in majors, she will also be marketed heavily.

  • Jon King · February 1, 2020 at 10:48 am

    Andrew, I agree 100%. Kenin needs to enjoy this, live in the moment.

    Like I have said before, no more dominant WTA players. If Kenin gets back to another major semi, wow, amazing. Odds are the revolving door continues, some other player will step up next year and start to win. Then 3-4-5 others will emerge the next few years.

    I would be shocked if Kenin wins more than 1 more major. Odds are she ends her career with 1, maybe 2 if the stars align.

  • catherine · February 1, 2020 at 10:52 am

    Andrew – We haven’t seen Bianca play yet so we don’t know and I wouldn’t include Kerber – she won’t win another Slam although she may play some good matches.She’s a veteran now.

    And I’m still curious about ‘Cocoa’ – is this her chosen name now ? To me she’s still Coco or Cori.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 11:12 am

    Dont forget Pliskova and Kvitova are out there, armed and dangerous. Also there are several unknown Kenins lurking. A year ago Kenin was just another McHale or Lauren Davis. Now Kenin’s shock win will inspire many more outsiders. Kenin win is great for tennis.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 11:14 am

    Kenin is a typical American high school football cheerleader type. Don’t sell her short in anyway.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Cocoa is more marketable and endorseable by the chocolate makers. Plus it’s auto spellcheck uncontrollable.

  • catherine · February 1, 2020 at 11:23 am

    Yes, but it’s not her name. I shall continue to call her Coco.

  • Jeff · February 1, 2020 at 11:31 am

    I think Bianca is still the best but now she has others in her way. I would say Kenin is better than Naomi, who has become a big celebrity with the rapper boyfriend and Hollywood friends.

    Let’s hope the marketers give Kenin a chance to become a star because she deserves it for this fantastic tournament. We have to give her all the credit and we shall see if she is a one-Slam wonder like Sloane or if there is more to come.

    Don’t count out Riske who is improving as well. I would suggest Serena will not break Margaret Court’s record.

  • Jon King · February 1, 2020 at 11:39 am

    Seeing some of the junior AO girls, plenty more competition is on the way.

  • Hartt · February 1, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    Catherine, yes, you and I are in a definite minority. The “male gaze” is perfect. I guess we will have to do our best to bring some balance, but it won’t be easy!

    I agree that Novak looks sort of odd. But poor Kevin Anderson has a tough time on Match Call Migrants. We’ve decided he looks like an ostrich. (But of course is a super nice guy.)

    A couple months ago a new forum began on Reddit for fans of The Tennis Podcast. They are up to 671 members already. They have an interesting feature, “Introduce Yourself,” and about 233 people have taken part, saying where they live, how they got involved with tennis, who their favourite players are, etc. It was fascinating to see the wide variety of posters. I think the majority are male, but there is still a good representation of female members.

  • Harold · February 1, 2020 at 1:01 pm

    I’ll tell you one thing, Gauff is years ahead of the girl that won the Aus juniors…that was a hard match to watch. The Polish girl has a sweet one hander, but 3 years older and couldn’t handle the pressure..the winner is going to have to hope she grows, gets stronger, and more athletic to do anything big at the next level

  • catherine · February 1, 2020 at 1:05 pm

    Lots of winners of junior events at GSs never go on to do anything much. I don’t know why. I’m not sure what the selection process is to get there.

  • Andrew Miller · February 1, 2020 at 1:10 pm

    Kenin’s tournament was spectacular. Haven’t seen this kind of under-stated, under-appreciated triumph for a while – a memorable tournament win would be (if they could have or DO pull it off) Medevedev at last year’s US Open, or Thiem up next within the next 24 hours.

    I’d put this one up with (for a first time winner) Seles at the 1990 French Open. Seles was new on the scene and shocked the world with her triumph there. I wouldn’t match this up with Andreescu last year because Andreescu has already been playing outstanding tennis since March 2019 – she snuck up on the field then when she was back pulled the equivalent of “flooring it” with the pedal to metal from Toronto right through to the US Open last point.

    We’ve seen a Kenin type run on the men’s tour before (I think) – even there, incredibly incredibly rare.

    This was a special, special run with a “player’s player”. I don’t think many people (truly, as in absolute number of people) outside of tennis writers will truly grasp what Kenin pulled off – she is under-sized for the sport (though she isn’t say Amanda Coetzer), she demonstrated a tennis IQ of genius throughout the tournament, she seemed to possess the ability to rev her game up or down as required, she zero-ed in on her competitors’ game flaws, and she executed as if it were the fifth set of Agassi’s win in 2005 against Blake, one of the more special efforts burned into the memory of tennis fans world-wide.

    I agree with others, especially Jon here, that this is going to be tough to replicate. The field is good. I don’t think they can do what Kenin did – Madison Keys isn’t all of the sudden going to develop the ability to match her game to her opponent and make the subtle changes that bring out the worst in their opponents, while executing the best stuff.

    But tennis is a game of match-ups and some players match up beautifully to Kenin, and they will be very tough in the tournaments ahead. Once you have snuck up on the field, it’s tough. This is a tough field with many ambitious players, and other players want glory too and they will believe they can do it. As to whether they can or not, that’s what tournaments are for.

    Anyways…special, special win. Only a few like this – it’s like this to all slam winners, but few come close in how they did this. Maybe Andres Gomez? Maybe Jim Courier, each with their French wins?

  • Andrew Miller · February 1, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    The popping of hype balloon was memorable, too. I think that was probably the best thing to happen to US tennis – that whoever was praised had work to do, and that those working in the shadows to bring their best stuff when it counted, now get the spotlight. As others said…enjoy it while it lasts!

    According to Agassi, this lasts for like a day.

  • Jon King · February 1, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    The AO girls finals was not great to watch. The nerves were obvious. Some of the girls who lost along the way are going to be better than the finalists at the next level. We have seen some at different tournaments through the years.

    A one handed backhand is hard these days on the girls side. Girls can hit with such hard and flat pace, its not easy for a one hander to do much with those balls. But its still nice to see the occasional one handed backhand from a young lady.

  • Andrew Miller · February 1, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    Henin didn’t inspire any future WTA player with her wondrous one-hander of a backhand – best one-handed backhand in history!

  • Sherry · February 1, 2020 at 3:35 pm

    I don’t think male and female tennis fans are really that much different in being affected by a player’s “looks.” In any field, good looks are a plus, however unfair that may be. But it’s not the whole story. Chris Evert wasn’t the best looking tennis player of her era, but she was the one who appeared on SI covers because she was both reasonably attractive and a great player (and, of course, with SI, it helped to be an American). I don’t think it is wrong to be favorably affected by looks, but I do object to the need to make nasty comments about players’ looks. It’s pretty clear that Hartt, Catherine and I don’t have the same taste in men – and that’s fine. But maybe we would be better to stick to what we like and stay mum on what we don’t like (especially if we are advocating the position that looks “don’t matter”).

    It’s too early to predict how Kenin will do over the long term, but I’m not one who thinks she will be a one-slam wonder. Her feistiness will stand her in good stead. There is a little bit of “Evert” in her mentality. She doesn’t strike me as mentally fragile.

    I was rather hoping that “Coco” hysteria would ease up a little, not because I don’t like her, but because it all becomes a bit much to listen to nonstop hype. As for Anisimova, if she is to be hyped over a new slam winner like Kenin, it can only be because Nike is more powerful than Fila.

  • Jeff · February 1, 2020 at 4:18 pm

    Well ladies I am secure enough in my masculinity to tell you that I see the sex appeal with players with Dimitrov and Feliciano and Alex Zverev and Thiem. I have no problem at all with women tuning in to watch hot guys play tennis.

    Also Berretini is quite handsome.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 4:21 pm

    Well said Sherry. Kenin and Evert are both your basic girl next door pretty American girls. To say otherwise is a cheap shot. Bottom line Sofia Kenin is a major champion. No expert predicted this. Underdogs inspiring again.

  • catherine · February 1, 2020 at 4:24 pm

    Sherry – I think I’ve reached the time of life where I can be pretty objective about peoples’ looks, especially if they’re public performers such as tennis players etc where I never actually know them or have any personal contact. My rule tends to be ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ – so unless someone is spectacularly attractive or handsome looks don’t really affect how I react to them. Men I kind of look at and think, well he’s ok, or I can see the appeal but I wouldn’t follow anyone for that reason.

    With women I think I sometimes see their looks as part of the way we react to them culturally, which is a complicated thing and interesting. Although I know how sensitive the whole topic is. Would X have been a better player if she hadn’t been so pretty ? Did Y miss out on publicity and money because she didn’t have conventional looks ? Possibly so, in both cases, although no one would mention it.

    When I wrote about tennis I stayed away from comments on personal appearance because it was the sensible, and professional thing to do, and I still tend to stick to that, although I do have thoughts on the subject.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 4:27 pm

    Harold, Jimenez Kasintseva is at least 5 ft 10, she is not small. Super bright future for her. Could be better than COCO not cocoa

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 4:28 pm

    Catherine, is like to see the stat on how girls under 15 who win junior slams do in wta.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    Andrew its a shocker like Chang and Capriati. Nobody predicted, last week or ever. Kenin was portrayed as just another McHale or Davis, just out there maybe a too 15 or 20 player.

  • catherine · February 1, 2020 at 4:43 pm

    Muguruza gave a nice speech at the award ceremony and seemed in a good mood, so much so that a few people suggested it was because she didn’t care. I think she was happy that everything was all over, there was relief that the stress was gone and she was very tired. She had a good tournament, beat Halep in an exhausting match and rolled over Svitolina in a miniature classic. So not too bad.

  • Andrew Miller · February 1, 2020 at 5:06 pm

    Scoop, saw Kenin first at Toronto last year, and she was surprisingly good to me – at the time I thought she played with a boring YAWN style. I noticed she was more aggressive than Mc-Davis – combine McHale and Davis…I couldn’t resist 🙁

    As once seen in person, McHale’s coach to Giorgi after Giorgi had hit for a few minutes with her practice partner: “Would you like to hit with Lauren?” Giorgi: Shaking her head no…

    So, I thought that Kenin was aggressive in her style, hit with a lot of drop shots in losing a match to Andreescu, but playing another version of “bbtennis” aka big babe tennis of the Vaidisova era.

    Well I was wrong. She was way better, superior mentally, superior strategically.

    This WAS a shock the universe kind of win for Kenin, even as a seed going into the tournament. An unseeded Muguruza win was a lot more plausible.

    So – I was wrong. Totally and utterly wrong. Kenin just a much better player. Doesn’t do it all, doesn’t do it all well but her ability to lure players into mistakes and play with this incredible court knowledge – it’s not thrilling, but it is incredible stuff. Sparkling strategy.

    A tennis player’s tennis player.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 5:36 pm

    Kenin was underestimated by everyone. Her breakout as a pro was in January two years ago. Nobody really saw her as anything but a Heather Watson type. Solid pro. She fooled all the experts.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 1, 2020 at 5:37 pm

    Muguruza knows she had a great tournament and she made kenin earn it. Muguruza is back.

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