Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.
PHOTO BY WTA
DUBAI – Sofia Kenin will be the star attraction when she takes to the courts at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after lifting her first Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open.
When she reached the third round in Dubai a year ago she was ranked an anonymous 37 in the world, but she returns as the world number seven after overcoming the resurgent two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in a pulsating final that had not only the Melbourne spectators but many millions around the world watching on tv on the edge of their seat.
Known for her tenacity and determination, Kenin faced a crisis when she trailed 0-40 as the score stood at 2-2 in the final set, but she bravely fought back to hold serve before surging to victory. In having already beaten Ashleigh Barty in the semi-finals she had become the youngest to defeat a world number one at the Australian Open since 2008 when Maria Sharapova beat Justine Henin, and in winning the title she became the youngest American Grand Slam champion since Serena Williams at the 2002 US Open.
“I can remember that game (at 2-2) very well,” she said. “I knew I had to take my chance. I had to be brave playing a two-time Grand Slam champion. I knew I needed to come up with the best shot, five best shots of my life. I mean, let’s go! I felt that in the third set I was getting closer to the title, something that I really want. I knew I needed to somehow try and relax, just try to calm down. I did a great job. I looked a few times to my box. They cheered for me, calmed me down. It just paid off. After that, I was on fire.”
Her success in Melbourne came after she had failed to advance beyond the fourth round of any previous Grand Slam she had played, but there were strong signs that she was on the rise throughout last season. She won three titles, reached the fourth round of a Slam for the first time by beating Serena Williams at Roland Garros, and she qualified for the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai and also the WTA Finals in Shenzhen as an alternate, where she played one match.
“My dream has officially come true,” she said. “I cannot even describe this feeling. It’s so emotional. I worked so hard. I’m so grateful to be standing here. Dreams come true. If you have a dream go for it and it’s gonna come true.”
It was a dream come true as well for her father and coach, Alexander, who moved with his wife from Russia to the United States in 1987 and struggled to make ends meet while driving a New York taxi by night and going to English and computer classes by day. The family briefly moved back to Russia where Sofia was born, returning to the US when she was still a baby.
Following in the footsteps of Richard Williams who with no prior knowledge of the game produced two Grand Slam champion sisters, Alexander learned by watching other coaches at work.
“He comes up with the right plans, the right strategies,” she said. “I really have him to thank. He’s told me a lot of positive things. He knows exactly what he’s talking about, even though I don’t like to admit it sometimes, to tell him he’s right. Yeah, he really works hard. Just thank you to him. We can share this forever.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins with the 20th anniversary of the WTA event, which runs from February 17 to 22 and features all four reigning Grand Slam champions. The tournament then continues between February 24 and 29 with the ATP tournament which stars reigning Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic, eight-time Dubai champion Roger Federer, 2019 ATP Finals winner Stefanos Tsitsipas and 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut.
Tickets are available at www.dubaidutyfreetennischampionships.com.
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