COMMENT: Sofia Kenin Goes From Nowhere To Superstar Status - UBITENNIS
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COMMENT: Sofia Kenin Goes From Nowhere To Superstar Status

James Beck reflects on the rise of the new Australian Open champion.



From nowhere to superstar.


That’s 21-year-old Sofia Kenin today. The Australian Open women’s singles champion.

As recently as 2017, Kenin was working her way through qualifying at Charleston’s Volvo Car Open where she is scheduled to return in two months. Direct main draw entry this time, of course.

She will be the highest-ranked American in professional tennis on Monday morning at No. 7 when the next WTA Tour rankings are posted.

“Great for American tennis,” VCO tournament director Bob Moran said Saturday morning about Kenin’s success Down Under. And for the oldest and largest women’s-only tennis tournament in the United States, the Volvo Car Open? “Absolutely.”

Kenin is the youngest American to win a Grand Slam since Serena Williams in the 2002 U.S. Open.

Kenin was all fight, spirit and feistiness. She needed it all to turn back two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, in the Australian Open final on Saturday night in Melbourne.

She started her acceptance speech by telling the audience,  “Okay, this is my first speech, but I’m going to try my best.” She was as much a winner with the microphone as she was with her tennis racket.

Her speech was so well articulated that tennis hall of famer Todd Woodbridge, who was serving as master of ceremonies for the Australian Open’s awards presentation, said, “I think we’ll all agree it was a pretty special first Grand Slam speech.”

Such headiness was apparent even in 2017 in Charleston when I noted in my story the excellent articulation of the then 18-year-old online-schooled Moscow-born Kenin. “I knew what I had to do. I had to play steady to win,” she told me in 2017 after winning her qualifying final.

Even then, her father Alexander, who still serves as her coach, was part of the audience on the Althea Gibson Club Court at the then Family Circle Tennis Center, watching a future superstar just like everyone else.

Kenin got her first big break in July, 2016 when she won a $50,000 event in Sacramento, Calif., that lifted her world ranking nearly 100 spots into the top 200.

She hasn’t changed her approach since, except to perfect it.

A month later in 2017, Kenin was back in Charleston, advancing through qualifying for a $60K International Tennis Federation tournament at LTP Tennis. She also participated in the 2018 and 2019 Volvo Car Open.

Kenin demonstrated early against Muguruza that this would be no picnic as she came up with a service break to deadlock the first set at 4-all. Kenin didn’t let the disappointment of losing the first set bother her too much as she took the court to start the second set with fire in her eyes and game.

She out-hit the veteran Muguruza from the baseline and forced the Spanish star to hit extra ball after extra ball.

The final set would be the real test, everyone must have thought. But once Kenin stood at 2-2, Muguruza couldn’t stop the American. Muguruza double-faulted on the last point of the sixth game and then the last point of the match.

Kenin celebrated with her dad Alexander when the final was finally over. She still maintained her concentration and focus. She was the champion. That was enough.

She thanked the crowd “for putting up with me,” but she admitted that the accomplishment was “my dream come true.”

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at See his Post and Courier columns at


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Dominic Thiem comes back from one set down to win the Bett1 Aces final in Berlin



Dominic Thiem beat Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 10-8 after 1 hour and 31 minutes to win the Bett1 Aces exhibition tournament in Berlin. Thiem and Berrettini met for the second time since the lockdown after their recent clash at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown.


Both players had to wait seven hours before stepping on the court due to rain. In the first set they held on their serve without any break points. Berrettini came back from 1-4 down by winning six points to win the tie-break 7-4.

Berrettini earned two break point opportunities in the second set, but he did not convert any of them. Thiem converted his third break point in the seventh game and held on his serve to win the second set 6-4 forcing the match to the super tie-break. Thiem earned two mini-breaks to take a 7-3 lead. Berrettini clawed hiw way back to 8-9. Thiem sealed the super tie-break 10-8 on his third match point.

“I think that there was a changing point in the second set where I saved two break points. I got really lucky with a drop shot that came off the frame to defend one break point. Match tie-breaks are always very close but I guess I was the luckiest today”, said Thiem.

Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova were set to play the women’s final, but the match was postponed due to bad light until Friday.

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Kim Clijsters starts the World Team Tennis tournament with a win over Bernarda Pera



Former world number 1 and multiple Grand Slam champion Kim Cljisters made a winning start to her 2020 World Team Tennis campaign with a 5-2 win over US player Bernarda Pera. World team Tennis is a mixed gender professional tennis league played with a team format in the United States.


The Belgian player rallied from 0-40 down twice and won two of three deciding points to seal the win. The 2020 World Team Tennis season will be the 45th season of the league and features nine teams and each team will play a 14-match regular-season schedule.

Clijsters has won 41 WTA singles titles and 11 doubles titles and lifted three WTA Tour Championships. She has won the Australian Open singles title in 2011 and three US titles in 2005, 2009 and 2010 and two Grand Slam doubles titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2003.

Cljisters retired from tennis in 2007 at the age of 23 to start a family. She made her come-back in 2009 and won her second US Open title as unranked player in just her third tournament of the comeback. Kim won her back-to-back title at the US Open in 2010 and the Australian Open in 2011. She became the first mother to be ranked world number 1 by the WTA. She holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles won as a mother and was the first to win one since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980.

Clijsters retired again after the 2012 US Open.

Cljisters returned to professional tennis at the Dubai Tennis Championships more than seven years of retirement. She lost to Garbine Muguruza in the opening round.

Cljisters is determined to return on the court after the WTA Tour was suspended since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The most important lesson for me is to trust the process. It does not mean because COVID happened that I am not interested in playing more tennis. There are some challenges and combining parenting at home and teaching the kids at home and still going to practice and things like that, so it was challenging but at the same time you get through that together”, said Cljisters.


Several precautions are in place at the World Team Tennis to avoid the risk of contracting Covid-19. No more than 500 spectators are allowed inside the 2500-seat stadium.

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Angelique Kerber suggests she won’t travel to New York



Three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber suggested she won’t travel even if the US Open gets the go-ahead.


The US Open organizers are determined to hold their tournament despite the restrictions imposed to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The German star says travelling to New York to play at the US Open is the last thing she wants to do due to the coronavirus crisis.

“As of today, I say quite honestly, I cannot imagine it. I don’t think anyone wants to get in a plane and fly to New York. At the moment no one knows what’s happening and how it will go on. I have the greatest respect that I or a member of my team could be infected and we are stuck without knowing how to proceed”, said Kerber.

Kerber is not optimistic that the WTA Tour will resume according to plan.

“Who knows, perhaps we will not play tennis in the next two years. It’s hard to say. We will also start again in three weeks”, said Kerber.

Daria Gavrilova said that she needs to play the US Open for financial reasons. The Australian tennis player has not played since the US Open last year due to injury and the shutdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“For me it’s important to make a living, to make some money. We have a choice. Personally I like to know that I have an opportunity to play and earn, but I feel like the players just don’t want to make a tough decision and maybe would feel a relief if the tournament is cancelled”, said Gavrilova.

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