Sofia Kenin will play the most important match of her career so far on Saturday, at the 2020 Australian Open final. The young American caused a major upset in the semi finals when she beat World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in straight sets.
The upset also made her the youngest player to beat a World No. 1 at a Grand Slam since 2002. She will now go up against Garbine Muguruza of Spain in a bid to lift her maiden Grand Slam title.
Kenin is a fighter, in the simplest of terms. Born in Russia and immigrating to the USA shortly after that, Sofia and her family had little money to start their lives anew. Despite all that, she started playing tennis at age five and her talent quickly shone through.
Participating in the USTA tournaments, Kenin captured the No. 1 spot in all divisions she played, right from 12 to 18 and under. She was a born competitor and her mental strength even as a kid made her perfect for tennis. Just look at this video of a seven year old Kenin talk about her game plan to beat Andy Roddick.
Even the interviewer seems flustered by her tactical plan for Roddick’s serve. He was probably expecting more of a silly answer, little did he know she was already figuring out the sport.
Rising steadily through the ranks, Kenin began making her mark at every stage of her career. She won her first professional match on the ITF circuit at just 14. Thanks to her junior national championship, she made her Grand Slam debut at the 2015 US Open with a wild card entry. She won the US Open Wild Card challenge the following year as well, losing in the first round of the US Open both times.
Sofia played the US Open for the third successive year in 2017, but this time she managed to bag her very first wins on the WTA Tour. She lost in the third round when she came up against a certain Maria Sharapova. In hindsight, these two wins proved crucial in her decision to pursue professional tennis.
Kenin’s steady rise in the WTA rankings placed her in the top 50 by the year 2018. This would become something of a breakthrough year for the young gun. She registered two top-10 wins during the year, beating then No. 6 Caroline Garcia and No. 10 Julia Gorges. The year ended with Kenin already in the top 50 of the world.
The 21-year-old continued her rise in the tennis world in the following year. The title at Hobart International meant she now had her maiden WTA title. She made her mark at the biggest stage as well, pushing Simona Halep to the very brink in the second round of the Australian Open. It was apparent that the big stage did not shake her.
She added the biggest feather to her cap at Roland Garros that year by beating compatriot Serena Williams in the third round. If there ever was a way of validating one’s choice of a career, beating Williams was it. She did go on to lose in the next round, but only to the eventual champion Barty.
Serena Williams was impressed with Kenin too.
“She just played literally unbelievable,” said Williams. “She just really went out there today and did great.”
The same year, she also beat Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty, both of whom were ranked No. 1 at the time. She would end the year ranked No. 12 in the world while also winning the WTA Most Improved Player of the Year award. The last time an American won the same award was way back in 1999 when Serena Williams herself took it home. Perhaps a hint at what the future may hold?
An aggressive player on the court, she defies her size, catching her opponents off-guard with her power. But more than power, it is her ability to break up the rhythm of a rally and hit winners down the line on her backhand that stupefies opponents. Calling on the unexpected, she will also win some easy points with a well-disguised and damaging drop-shot.
All in all, with a good defensive game as well, Kenin boasts of a pretty all-round game. Moreover, she is still very much developing her game and at 21, she has her entire career ahead.
Ask anyone who has followed her over the years and you will hear something along the lines of innate mental strength, raw talent and a sense of belief. Surely Sofia Kenin is a champion in the making if she doesn’t become one on Saturday itself.