2020 Australian Open: Sofia Kenin soars into first Grand Slam semifinal
Sofia Kenin celebrates her victory | Photo: TPN/Getty

In a battle of surprise quarterfinalists at the Australian Open, it was Sofia Kenin who continued the streak of first-time semifinalists in Melbourne as she defeated the unseeded Ons Jabeur, who has been rewriting records in her country with her stunning run, in straight sets. The American withstood Jabeur’s powerful game to claim the 6-4, 6-4 win after an hour and 32 minutes of play, ensuring that she will edge closer than ever to a top-10 debut after the tournament.

Playing a more conservative game as compared to Jabeur, Kenin logged in 14 winners to just 16 unforced errors while the Tunisian’s aggressive game saw her blast 34 winners but coming with a heavy price of 36 unforced errors as well. Jabeur went 1/7 on break point opportunities, failing to convert most of her opportunities and ultimately being defeated.

Kenin will continue her Australian Open run against either world number one Ashleigh Barty or defending finalist Petra Kvitova, while Jabeur will head home with a memorable experience and a top-50 debut.

The two surprise quarterfinalists in Melbourne share a warm hug after the match | Photo: Fred Lee
The two surprise quarterfinalists in Melbourne share a warm hug after the match | Photo: Fred Lee

Kenin takes the opening set

It was both players’ first appearance in a stage as big as a Grand Slam quarterfinal, and the opening stages were expected to be jittery for both of them. However, Jabeur came out of the blocks firing as she fired three consecutive matches to start the match with a love service hold. Kenin replied with a routine hold of hers, but quickly found the first breakthrough as the Tunisian’s big-hitting game backfired on her.

Doing her country proud by being the first Arab woman to make the third round or beyond in a Grand Slam, Jabeur levelled the scores within a blink of an eye, overpowering Kenin from the baseline. However, she has not been able to do that consistently, with the American retrieving well and redirecting the power impressively.

Sofia Kenin fought well to claim the first set | Photo: Cameron Spencer
Sofia Kenin fought well to claim the first set | Photo: Cameron Spencer

Playing a high-risk game against a solid baseliner like Kenin was always an uphill task for Jabeur, which could explain her dismal head-to-head record against the 14th seed. Kenin reclaimed her lead, and this time she consolidated her advantage as she produced three consecutive winners from break point down to open up a 5-3 lead.

Despite playing some brave tennis to save two set points with big forehand winners, Jabeur minimized the deficit but could not prevent Kenin from successfully serving out the set as she failed to convert a break point, ultimately conceding the opening set 4-6 after 44 minutes of action.

Kenin overcomes huge scare to seal the win

Jabeur did a fantastic job to remain composed after a disappointing first set, staying toe-to-toe with her opponent to ensure that she is still in contention for a first Major semifinal appearance. The turning point seemed to have arrived in the fifth game, with the unseeded Tunisian saving a break point to hold for a 3-2 lead.

Kenin seemed to have been shaken a little, making impulsive decisions to challenge shots that were relatively obvious and ultimately wasting all her chances to challenge. She was forced to dig deep and pounce on Jabeur’s nervous errors to save three break points, growing in confidence after every shot.

Ons Jabeur would rue all her unforced errors today | Photo: Cameron Spencer
Ons Jabeur would rue all her unforced errors today | Photo: Cameron Spencer

Jabeur grew increasingly frustrated with her errors, and she could have felt the occasion as she faltered during the crucial moments and was broken immediately in the next game. A love service hold placed Kenin just one game away from the win, but Jabeur applied the pressure on the American with a quick hold as well. 

Despite starting the final game with a double-fault, Kenin did extremely well to rebound and book a spot in her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal.

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