PARIS – Sofia Kenin’s prospects entering the French Open appeared as bleak as the weather at a damp and chilly Roland Garros, following a 6-0, 6-0 loss in her only tune-up event on clay.
Instead, her crushing loss to Victoria Azarenka in Rome, a “disaster” Kenin termed it, gave the American a problem to solve – a challenge the 21-year-old embraces more than most.
“Definitely, I’m a problem solver. You obviously have to expect tough situations. It’s a tennis match. You know your opponent wants to win. They want to find your weakness. Of course, you’ve got to be smart,” Kenin said after her 6-4, 7-5 semi-final win over Petra Kvitova.
“I obviously like it not to get too crazy with the scoreline and everything. I prefer to be going easy, but obviously cannot expect that. I’m in a semi-final. I’m not going to have a 6-0, 6-0 win, especially against Petra.”
While Kenin’s bizarre, no-look service action is a puzzle to many, she found it difficult to impose herself on clay until a third-round win over Serena Williams last year in Paris gave her reason to believe.
“I did not like clay at all. Honestly, like in juniors, clay was not my strongest surface. I felt underpowered. I couldn’t control the points. I didn’t have great movement. It was a bit of a struggle for me,” said Kenin.
“After playing against Serena, it gave me a boost in confidence.”
Teenage phenomenon Coco Gauff grabbed the spotlight at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2019, but Kenin was voted the WTA’s most improved player after winning three titles and climbing into the top 20.
Before the Australian Open in January, Kenin had only reached the second week at a major once. However, she emerged from the shadows in Melbourne – beating the much-touted Gauff, world number one Ashleigh Barty and double Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza to capture the title.
“Kenin was like the fifth- or sixth-best American junior of her generation,” said 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Chris Evert, commentating for the Tennis Channel.
“She was kind of a pusher with no weapons. And now she is a Slam champion with a chance to win another. That tells you a lot about her.”
‘I hate losing’
Kenin’s feistiness has enabled her to battle through four three-setters in five matches at Roland Garros before taking down Kvitova, her first seeded opponent.
The Czech hadn’t dropped a set in reaching the last four, much like Iga Swiatek, who awaits Kenin in Saturday’s final.
The Polish teenager has conceded only 23 games in six rounds and drawn comparisons to world number one Novak Djokovic, who is trying to become the first man in half a century to win all four Slams twice.
Swiatek, 19, is aiming to become her country’s first Grand Slam singles champion and has been tipped to become a star of the future.
“I think she is there to be a Grand Slam champion, multiple times. I genuinely believe that Iga can be the one,” Mats Wilander, a winner of three French Opens, told Eurosport.
“Her basic game reminds me of Novak Djokovic,” he added. “She doesn’t have any weaknesses at all, not one. I think she is going to be one to look out for in the next few years – maybe the one.”
Swiatek is bidding to become the first woman to hoist the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen without losing a set since Justine Henin in 2007, but standing in her way is Kenin, a player who thrives on tackling the biggest obstacles.
“Losing I really hate and I love winning. I try to do everything I can to win,” said Kenin, as she attempts to add another chapter to a tale of success.
“I guess a piece is I won a Grand Slam, and now I’m in the final of Roland Garros, which is really special. Hopefully there might be another piece to write that I won Roland Garros.”