As the serve went long, the reality hit 21-year old American Sofia Kenin what she had just achieved...
The Russian born player had just won her very first major, in her very first final at the Australian Open. She gently put her hands on her face and the tears began to stream down as a childhood dream was reached.
Beginnings of her tennis carear
Inspired by her dad Alexander, Kenin took up tennis at the tender age of five and her talent was apparent right away. Thankfully, both Alexander and his wife Lena encouraged their daughter and enrolled her in to train under Rick Macci in Florida. Macci is well renowned in tennis circles, having coached the likes of Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters.
Macci, who played professionally in the 70's said of his young protege, "The hand-eye coordination and her ability to take the ball immediately right after the bounce. I have a lot of kids that do that, but it was like it was baked in already, even though she was little and the racket was actually bigger than her."
By the age of seven, she was already competing at under-10 tournaments, reached number one at all junior level age groups and was making the cover of tennis magazines. It was clear that Kenin's life was already being mapped out and the path to success was being established.
Making moves on the junior circuit
One might think, she would have comprehensively dominated the junior level, but it was not always plain sailing for Kenin. She did win her first titles back in 2013, in both singles and doubles, but she was inconsistent at times. Combining natural talent with an intense work ethic, meant though that she overcame those difficulties.
By the middle of the last decade, she started showing what was to come of her in later years. By the age of 15 and 16, she captured the Orange Bowl and won the Grade 1 title in the form of the USTA Spring International Championships.
With her success at junior level, she earned a wild card entry in the 2015 US Open as her grand slam debut. Though she lost, she would not be deterred on her goals, as an almost trait that would serve her well in later years.
Full time play on the WTA
In 2017 and by this time at the age of 18, Kenin had a choice to make that could potentially affect her for the rest of her life. She was offered a scholarship to go to the University of Miami, but by that time, she had made it past the first round of a grand slam for the first time in New York. Coincidentally, these were her initial victories on tour and she choose to not take the opportunity of furthering her education and stayed permanently on tour. Given what has transpired thereafter, she seemed to have made the right choice.
What was highly impressive about Kenin's move from the junior to the senior level was that she not only continued her style of play, but actually enhanced it. Some players tend to "find their way" when they jump up that level, but not her, as she stuck to her traits and strengths as she came up against the very best that the game had to offer. Arguably her best shots are her backhand, which in addition to being quite powerful, can he deceptive. She confuses her opponent as to which direction she is going to hit the ball, meaning at times they are scrambling to pick it.
Reaching new heights in the last year
The year 2019 can be looked back as the time when this prodigious talent truly announced herself on the circuit. She ended the year at No.14 in singles and her all-round ability was in full evidence as well, as she moved up to No.39 in doubles. These upwards strides in the rankings were due to her clinching her first singles and doubles crowns of her career.
She showed her penchant for excelling on the Australasian continent..She teamed up with fellow North American Eugenie Bouchard to win the doubles event at the Auckland Open and triumphed at the Hobart International in the singles soon after. Throughout the year, she continued to progress and fight for every tournament she competed in, as her tenacity and grit became a staple of her game.
She would claim a couple of further singles titles in Mallorca and Guangzhou and a second doubles crown at the China Open. She ended the year by incredibly being an alternative for the WTA Finals(which she eventually competed at after Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu had to withdraw). She was awarded the prestigious Most Improved Player of the Year accolade at the WTA awards.
Tough start to 2020, but then victory
Prior to the first major of the campaign in Melbourne, Kenin had her struggles...She lost in the second round of both events at Brisbane and Adelaide and was handed the 14th seed at the Australian Open. She progressed without much fanfare and met fellow American Coco Gauff, whom she defeated to advance to the last eight.
She advanced into the semi-finals in straight sets where she was set to meet local favourite Ashleigh Barty. The former cricketer, who currently holds the No.1 ranking in the ladies game was dispatched with relative ease in straight sets. Barty had the backing of the entire crowd as they had hoped to see one of their own win the title for the first time since 1978. However, the 21-year old relished the opportunity to overcome the odds and put in a professional performance to make her first ever grand slam final.
In the said final against Spaniard Muguruza, she started slow off the blocks...Her serve which has been so solid and effective leading up to the final showed signs of weakness, her groundstrokes were either being hit long & wide or being hit back to her with a power she could not handle and the occasion seemed to overwhelm her.
That was all set to change in the next two sets. Her serve was hit with pinpoint precision as she eventually raised it to 75% and won 2/3 of those points. Even her second serve she was being solid with, winning the same amount as her first. The element of her game that really took her to the trophy win, was her aggressiveness.
In the first set, she stayed back on Muguruza's serve and groundstrokes, but in the second and third, she leaned into the ball and cracked them with the power of a seasoned veteran. Her entire mentality changed thereafter and she broke twice to win the second set and tie the final.
Her emotions on the court were a sight to see, as Kenin displayed just how much this match and tennis on a whole meant to her. She slammed her racket a couple times and she screamed at her people in her box, almost as if trying to get a calming call from them.
The point of the final that it was really clinched was in the fifth set. Serving 0-40 down, she garnered five straight points to hold her serve and she would never look back again. Kenin won the remaining games of the match and the title was claimed after Muguruza double-faulted, for a final score of 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.
What a performance, what a comeback, what a two weeks down under and what determination she showed. In the post-match, she said: "My dream has officially come true." She seemed destined for this type of moment and she had achieved that on 1st of February 2020.
Sofia Kenin has arrived!