Sofia Kenin Embracing The Calm Before The Storm In Melbourne - UBITENNIS
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Sofia Kenin Embracing The Calm Before The Storm In Melbourne

The American world No.4 says she is not putting too much pressure on herself ahead of the Australian Open.

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If Sofia Kenin was looking for a match which tested her both mentally and physically, she had her prayers answered on Wednesday at the Yarra Valley Classic.

The world No.4 was pushed to her limits by compatriot Jessica Pegula who she outlasted 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. Although the score doesn’t tell the full story with Kenin at one stage trailing by a set and 1-4 before fighting back to secure the win. During what was a lacklustre performance, she struggled behind her second serve in which she only won 45% of points played. Overall, Kenin did hit 14 more winners than Pegula but she also committed 10 more unforced errors.

“I just kept fighting,and then I found my groove, I was happy the way I was able to change things in the second. First I did some things wrong, then I made the adjustment in the second,” said Kenin.
“I was missing so many first serves. I was getting quite annoyed. Then I started making them. I started going after my second serves, which was good. Then it kind of let me down a little bit at 5-2 (in the third set). A win is a win, so I’ll take it,” she added.

22-year-old Kenin is hoping for a deep run this week in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open where she is the defending champion. She kicked-off her season last month in the Middle East where she reached the quarter-finals of the Abu Dhabi Open before losing to Maria Sakkari. Although the one difference is Melbourne is being held in front of a crowd with the Australian Open set to welcome up to 30,000 people each day.

“I can’t wait for next week, to play in front of a bigger crowd. Hopefully the Aussie fans will be on my side.”

2020 was a breakout year for the Russian-born player whose family moved to America a couple months after she was born. Besides her Melbourne triumph, she also won the Lyon Open and reached the final of the French Open. Overall, she won 24 out of 33 matches played last year and was named the WTA’s Player of the Year in December.

However, trying to carry that momentum into a new season is never easy with Kenin admitting that she will be facing a lot of pressure during her title defence at the Australian Open. The last time a female player won the same Grand Slam two years in a row was Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2016.

“I’m happy that I feel like this tournament, I’m not putting too much pressure on myself. I’m trying to get as many matches as I possibly can, try to feel my game. Then come Australian Open, it’s going to be different: more pressure on myself and everything,” said Kenin.
“I guess this week is a little bit of a relaxation week for me mentally because I’m not really crazy right now. I’m kind of trying to stay as calm as possible. Coming up, it will be really, really hectic.”

Next up for Kenin will be a clash with Garbine Muguruza at the Yarra Valley event. The player who she beat to win the Australian Open title 12 months ago.

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World No.32 Davidovich Fokina Replaces Long-Time Coach With Verdasco

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Fernando Verdasco was spotted earlier this week briefly watching Ons Jabeur play at the French Open but his focus this year is on another player.

The former top 10 player has landed a new coaching job after being hired by compatriot Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Somebody who he once played a Tour-level doubles match alongside back in 2020. Fokina has opted to stop working with Jorge Aguirre, who has been his mentor since he was a child.

The change comes after what has been a mixed start to the season for Fokina who has only managed to win back-to-back matches in two out of 11 tournaments played before the start of Roland Garros. His sole win over a top 20 player occurred at the start of 2024 when he beat Hubert Hurkacz at the United Cup.  

“I will be very brief. I have left it with Jorge (Aguirre) and I start with Verdasco, with whom I have had a good relationship for years. He has not officially retired, but I knew that he was training other players and it was time,” Fokina told reporters after beating Valentin Vacherot in the first round of the French Open.
“It was time to close a stage and start a new one. With his experience, Verdasco can help me a lot to face the games, to assume that pressure and tension of the competition.”

Verdasco has won seven ATP titles during his career and reached the semi-finals of the 2009 Australian Open. At this year’s Madrid Open, he briefly helped Jabeur whose main coach Issam Jellali was unable to attend the tournament. 

Fokina will next play Casper Ruud in Roland Garros.

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Grand Slam Quarter-Finalist Van De Zandschulp Pondering Retirement After French Open Exit

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image via https://x.com/Boticvdz/

Botic van de Zandschulp has revealed he is losing his passion for tennis and is considering retiring from the sport following his exit from the French Open on Monday.

The 29-year-old was knocked out of the tournament in straight sets by Fabio Fognini, who eased his way to a 6-1, 6-1, 7-5, victory. It is the second Grand Slam in a row where he has fallen at the first hurdle with the 2022 Wimbledon championships being the last major event where he won back-to-back matches.   

“I don’t look forward to competitions at all anymore,” Zandschulp told Dutch media.
“I have been asking myself more and more lately whether I want to continue.
“You have to do work that you enjoy. Everyone has a bad day every now and then. But if there are too many, then you have to ask yourself whether you want to continue.” 

Zandschulp has been the top-ranked player in his country with his most notable achievement being a run to the quarter-finals of the 2021 US Open. The former world No.22 is a two-time runner-up at the Munich Open but is yet to win an ATP Tour title. He has registered a total of six wins over top 10 players, including Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev. 

However, recent difficulties on the Tour have left the Dutchman questioning if he wants to continue playing.  

“I like the training. Those are great days. But when I get up in the morning, I no longer look forward to the matches at all.” He commented.

Zandschulp’s remarks could be a reaction to his frustrating loss to Fognini. However, he confirmed that he has been considering retiring for a long time. 

“It was the worst match I have played in my life,” he said. 
“Of course, it is now fresh after the match. That plays a role in my mind, but the thoughts of quitting have been there for a long time. It is not an easy life as a tennis player. You really live your life, play thirty weeks a year and travel from pillar to post.
“If you don’t play, someone else will pass you by (in the rankings). That’s why I now play extra tournaments instead of charging myself at home.”

Zandschulp is currently ranked 102nd in the world and is scheduled to play in the French Open doubles event on Tuesday.

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“It’s Purely Psychological” – Maria Sakkari Berates ‘Unacceptable’ French Open Defeat

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Maria Sakkari - Roma 2023 (foto Francesca Micheli, Ubitennis)

Greece’s Maria Sakkari said she felt ‘intense anxiety’ before her first round match at the French Open after crashing out of the draw on Monday.  

The sixth seed suffered a shock 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, loss to Varvara Gracheva who is currently ranked 88th in the world. Sakkari produced a costly 39 unforced errors and dropped serve five times in her latest match. It is the first time she has lost her opening match at a tournament since February.  

Heading into Paris, the 28-year-old had produced encouraging results on the Tour after reaching the semi-finals in Charleston before making fourth round appearances at WTA 1000 events in Madrid and Rome. 

 “It’s the first time I don’t know what to say…” Sakkari told SDNA
“I’ve been very well these days. It was very sudden for me too, I started feeling intense anxiety before the match. I would really like to give the right answers, but all I have to say is that I have been very well these days. No matter what set I played, no matter what practice I did, everyone could see that I was fine. It’s definitely psychological, purely. It’s nothing else.” 

Since appearing in two Grand Slam semi-finals in 2021, Sakkari has struggled to make an impact at the major events. Her defeat to Gracheva makes it the fourth time she has lost in the first round of a Grand Slam since the start of last year. Overall, she has only managed to win back-to-back matches in two out of her nine most recent appearances at these tournaments. 

 “I won the first set and I kept getting nervous. My pulse was very high throughout the match, especially until the middle of the third set,” she said of her latest performance.
“I was feeling a panic, it’s not like I won the first set and relaxed. Maybe if I had broken the first game of the second set things would have been different. But what can we say now?’  
“It’s purely psychological, I’m not hiding. I will not look for excuses. I put too much pressure on myself, not to lose another game in the first or second round of a Grand Slam. Everyone around me tries to tell me that it happened in New York too, but then I recovered. However, it is not the same. I’ve recovered and I’m playing well in the other tournaments, but it’s proven that I’m not playing well in the Grand Slams. I feel it’s one thing, another thing.” 

Whilst praising her opponent, Sakkari describes her defeat as ‘unacceptable’ and hopes it will serve as a wake-up call for her.  

She now heads to the grass season with a win-loss record of 19-10 so far this year.

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