Sofia Kenin of the U.S. returns the ball to Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina during a match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Sofia Kenin of the U.S. returns the ball to Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina during a match of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)|Associated Press
Tennis

Sofia Kenin is one of Neal Abrams' Top 5 young women's tennis stars to watch in 2020 (2 of 5)

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Sofia Kenin

Sofia Kenin is a name that’s been knocking around American female tennis circles for some time now. Kenin was born in Russia and as a child moved to Southeast Florida (Pembroke Pines) with her parents. By the time she was 13 she started playing some Junior tournaments and won her first of these the next year in 2013, at 14. The following year she started participating in International Junior events, making it to the semis of her first Orange Bowl where she lost to Cici Bellis. The following year she took the Orange Bowl title and got to enter the main draw at the 2015 U.S. Open as the winner of the United States Girls 18 & Under Championships. In her third U.S. Open main draw, she got off the schneid and won two rounds, over Lauren Davis and Sascha Vickery, before dropping her third-round encounter with Maria Sharapova. She turned down a tennis scholarship to the University of Miami and turned pro, finishing that year ranked #108 in the world when she was almost 19 years old.

Although 2018 did not produce either big results or any big jumps in performance, she did notch her first match wins at both Indian Wells and Miami. In Mallorca on grass she produced her first Top Ten scalp as she knocked off world #6 Caroline Garcia and won a round at Wimbledon. She won two rounds in the ’18 U.S. Open and followed that up with a win over world #10 Julia Gorges at the Wuhan Open in China, which helped her finish the year ranked in the Top 50.

Last year, 2019, marked Kenin’s remarkable move up in the rankings. She got to the finals at the Mexican Open and as the European clay court season began, notched a win over Serena Williams, which always raises eyebrows from those following the WTA. She followed that up with semi-final runs at both the Cincinnati Open and the Canadian Open where she lost to the eventual champions in both events, Maddy Keys and Bianca Andreescu, respectively. But she reached a giant milestone when she beat the world #1 in back-to-back weeks, as the first player to do that since Lindsay Davenport in 2001, when she knocked off both Ash Barty and Naomi Osaka. She lost in New York to Maddy Keys, who was due for a bounce back of some sort after falling on hard times. The year ended with Kenin ranked #14, and she was named the WTA Most Improved Player of the Year, an award last won by an American in 1999 (Serena).

What really opened up eyes around the world for Kenin, however, just happened. She entered the 2020 Australian Open as the 14th seed, and, without looking back, ran through Martina Trevisan, Ann Li, Zhang Shuai, Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur, top-seeded Ash Barty, and Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. She raised her first Grand Slam singles trophy and banked her first championship paycheck of $4 Million Australian, which is approximately $2.9 Million American. Now this title hasn’t smoothed out Kenin’s penchant for inconsistency, and because of her youth and relative lack of experience (which is changing by the day) I’d expect Kenin to continue to over-perform one week and underperform the next. It might take her another couple of years to gain some competitive consistency and smooth out her results, but we all know, and more importantly, Kenin knows, that she has the game, the firepower, and the competitive excellence to beat every player in the world. So, although her results may continue to show some inconsistency, be prepared to mark her name down as champion... a result we’ll all get more used to as time moves on.

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