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.

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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 Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. See his Post and Courier columns at 

http://www.postandcourier.com/search/?l=25&sd=desc&s=start_time&f=html&t=article%2Cvideo%2Cyoutube%2Ccollection&app=editorial&q=james+beck&nsa=eedition

 

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Miomir Kecmanovic saves six match points to beat Daniel Evans in Tokyo

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Miomir Kecmanovic saved six match points in a single game, including one with a tweener, to beat Daniel Evans 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7-4) reaching the quarter final at the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo. 

 

Kecmanovic won the opening set 6-3 with a single break in the sixth game. He went up a break at love in the first game of the second set, but Evans broke straight back to draw level to 1-1. The British player earned his second break in the fourth game and held his next service games to seal the second set 6-3. 

Kecmanovic broke in the fourth game to take a 4-1 lead, but Evans pulled back on serve to win four consecutive games earning a chance to serve for the match. 

Kecmanovic went down 0-40, as Evans was serving at 5-4 in the third set. The Serbian player broke serve in a four-deuce game, but he wasted a match point on return at 6-5, before winning the final four points to seal the tie-break 7-4. 

“That was the first time that I was able to do that. I was tuned out of the match and I just went for it in that moment. It was the first time I ever made a tweener in a match. I am beyond happy that I was able to do it. I had a lot of ups and downs, especially in the third set , being 4-1. Somehow I managed to stay in, and thankfully I am still here”, said Kecmanovic. 

Frances Tiafoe beat Bernabe Zapata Miralles 6-1 7-6 (9-7) in the opening match. Tiafoe earned three breaks to cruise through to a 6-1 lead. Zapata Miralles earned his first break in the third game to take a 3-1 lead. Tiafoe broke back in the sixth game to draw level to 3-3. Both Zapata Miralles and Tiafoe saved a break point in the the 10th and 11th games. Tiafoe went up a mini-break twice in the mini-break, but Zapata Miralles pulled back on serve both times. 

Tiafoe sealed the win on his fifth match point to reach his sixth quarter final of the season. The US player won his 13th tie-break to reach the quarter finals for the first time in Tokyo.

“I think handling those big moments, tie-breaks and stuff like that, the key is focusing on what you can focus on and just playing to win, playing aggressive. I have a lot of shots in the book, so I am trying to make the match on my terms and have that belief”, said Tiafoe. 

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Billie Jean King Praises Grand Slam Semi-Finalist Nadia Podoroska For Coming Out

The Argentine recently marked her girlfriend’s birthday with an Instagram post which was also the first time she went public about her personal life.

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Tennis legend Billie Jean King has congratulated Nadia Podoroska on being her authentic self after the tennis star recently confirmed she is in a same-sex relationship with another player. 

 

Podoroska, who shot to the limelight at the 2021 French Open by reaching the semi-finals before being hampered by injury, made a low key coming out on social media. In an Instagram post, the tennis star uploaded a series of photos of her with her girlfriend along with the caption “Today I celebrate you from afar, but I feel you by my side every day of my life.’ The post was done to mark her birthday. 

Fellow player Guillermina Naya is Podoroska’s partner and the two have been in a relationship for some time, according to Women’s Tennis Blog. Naya, who is also from Argentina, is currently ranked 814th in the world but has been as high as 533rd. Although she has not played on the Tour this year. 

Due to injury problems, Podoroska was unable to start her 2022 season until July on the lower-level ITF Tour. Since then she has made steady progress by reaching the final of an ITF W60 event in Gran Canaria and more recently reaching the semi-finals of the Chennai Open in India. 

“I had been suffering from physical discomfort in one leg. I decided to stop in order to recover. Then I had a bone oedema, I couldn’t walk, and I had to wear a boot. Then I got a knee injury in the other leg,” she said of her injury woes during an interview with Clay Tennis.

The 25-year-old credits her girlfriend Naya for the support she received during her 10-month absence from the sport. She is the latest player on the WTA Tour to open up about their sexuality, joining the likes of Daria Kasatkina, Alison Van Uytvanck and Greet Minnen.

“Congratulations to WTA player ⁦⁦Nadia Podoroska ⁩ on her announcement. Living authentically takes such courage, but it is always worth it,” multiple Grand Slam champion King wrote on Twitter. 

In response to the post, the tennis star also paid tribute to King for the impact she has had on the sport. King helped form the WTA Tour and was a key figure in the fight to equal prize money during the early part of the Open Era. She was also one of the first world-class athletes to publicly come out as gay back in 1981. 

Whilst there are various female LGBT players in tennis, there are still no openly gay players on the men’s Tour. 

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Iga Swiatek reaches her eleventh quarter final of the season in Ostrava

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World number 1 Iga Swiatek has reached her eleventh quarter final this year at the Agel Open in Ostrava after Ajla Tomljanovic was forced to withdraw from the match due to a left knee injury, when she was trailing 7-5 2-2. 

 

Swiatek raced out to a 4-1 lead with a break in the second game and came two points from a 5-1 lead, but Tomljanovic held serve. 

Tomljanovic broke back in the seventh game to draw level to 4-4 and held two break points, but she was not able to convert them. Swiatek converted her second set point, as Tomljanovic netted a volley. 

All four games of the second set went to deuce. Tomljanovic earned an early break in the first game of the second set. Swiatek broke straight back in the second game after a six-deuce game. Tomljanovic started to clutch saved a break point to hold serve at deuce before retiring from the match. 

“We played in Toronto and I saw in the US Open how well Ajla played. It seems she is really on a roll and she is playing better and better. It was a great match and it’s unfortunate that something happened. I hope she is going to recover quickly”, said Swiatek. 

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