Sofia Kenin? To many casual tennis fans, the name is a new one. Who? Where from? How did she get here … as in the final of the 2020 Australian Open.
Her journey has been a long one, but one well thought out with a clear pathway, from the age of five in Florida.
Courtesy of the USTA Florida website, here’s a little insight into the remarkable rise of this young woman …
An unlikely Australian Open women’s final has been set, where No. 14-seeded American Sofia Kenin will take on unseeded Spaniard Garbine Muguruza for the first Grand Slam title of 2020.
Both semifinals featured fireworks as Kenin upset current world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia 7-6(6), 7-5 in front of her home-country fans, and Muguruza ousted No. 4-seeded Simona Halep of Romania by a nearly identical score 7-6(8), 7-5.
“I believed I could win even though I had two set points down in the first and second,” the 21-year-old Kenin of Pembroke Pines, Florida, said.
“I could literally feel, I was telling myself, I believe in myself. If I lose the set, I’m still going to come out and believe. I didn’t give up…I left everything out all on the court, so it paid off.”
Both players appeared nervous with Kenin in her first Grand Slam semifinal, and Barty attempting to become the first Australian woman in more than 40 years to win in Melbourne.
The temperature climbed above 100 Fahrenheit during the match, testing the players and causing balls to fly off racquets as both players attempted to control unforced errors.
Kenin entered the match at 1-4 career versus Barty, and showed her fighting spirit in the difficult conditions, saving set points in both sets.
“I put myself in a position to win the match today and just didn’t play the biggest points well enough to be able to win,” Barty said afterward.
“I have to give credit where credit’s due. Sofia came out and played aggressively on those points and deserved to win.”
Kenin, who had an under-the-radar junior career before passing on a scholarship offer to the University of Miami to turn pro, last year broke out winning her first three WTA titles in four finals. Now with her effort in Melbourne, she will crack the Top 10 for the first time on the WTA rankings.
“First I’m just going to be enjoying the moment,” Kenin said. “You don’t experience this so often. Of course, I’m going to enjoy it. 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.”
Her opponent in the final, Muguruza, is no rookie with two Grand Slam titles under her belt and a former holder of the world No. 1 ranking. The Spaniard entered Melbourne as the No. 32-ranked player on the WTA rankings after a difficult 2019, but looks to have righted the ship.
“I believe in myself that I have what it takes to play these kinds of matches and to be in this stage,” Muguruza said after her semifinal win.
“The mission is to get away from here with a big trophy.”
Kenin and Muguruza have met only once on tour, with the American winning last year in three sets in Beijing.
Sofia ‘Sonya’ Kenin was born on November 14, 1998 in Moscow to Alexander and Lena Kenin. Her family moved to the US a few months after she was born.
They had previously left the Soviet Union to live in New York in 1987, but returned to Russia for Kenin’s birth so that other family members could help raise her initially.
Her mother had worked as a nurse in the Soviet Union, and her parents had little money when they first moved to the US.
Kenin began playing tennis at the age of five, drawing inspiration from her father who had played recreationally.
Her parents recognised her potential and arranged for her to begin training with Rick Macci in Florida. Macci coached Kenin for seven years.
“Back then [when Kenin was five], I came right out and said Sofia was the scariest little creature I’d ever seen,” Kenin said.
“It was unique: the hand-eye co-ordination and her ability to take the ball immediately right after the bounce.
“I have a lot of kids do that, but it was almost like it was baked in already, even though she was little and the racket was actually bigger than her.
“The only player I’ve seen like that is [former world No. 1] Martina Hingis.”
Kenin had success in tennis at a young age, and when she began playing in USTA girls’ 10-and-under tournaments at the age of seven, became the top-ranked player in Florida in that division.
Kenin reached a career-high of No. 2 in the ITF junior rankings and began playing in low-level Grade 4 events in 2012 at the age of 13.
After winning her first titles in both singles and doubles in 2013, she progressed to the Grade 1 level.
Kenin built on that success in 2015 by winning the USTA International Spring Championships, a Grade 1 tournament. She also won the USTA Girls 18s National Championships. With the title, she earned a wild card into the main draw of the 2015 US Open.
“Sonya’s” rise really took hold last year when she rose from outside the top 50 at the start of the year to 12th by the end of the season.
She won her first WTA doubles title at the Auckland Open alongside Eugenie Bouchard, then won her maiden WTA singles title at the Hobart International.
At the Australian Open, she pushed then world No. 1 Simona Halep to three sets in the second round, ultimately losing in a long two-hour-and-thirty minute match.
In the grass court season, Kenin won her second WTA singles title of the year at the Mallorca Open. She lost in the second round of Wimbledon to Dayana Yastremska, but reached the semifinals at both the Canadian Open and the Cincinnati Open.
During the Asian hard court season, Kenin won her third singles title of the year at the Guangzhou International Women’s Open, defeating Samantha Stosur in the final.
She also received the WTA Most Improved Player of the Year award for her breakthrough season, becoming the first American player to win the award since Serena Williams in 1999.
This is no fluke. A well-planned 15-year journey that reaches its climax in Melbourne today.