2021 WTA Tour Players to Watch: Sofia Kenin

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Sofia Kenin joined the Grand Slam winners circle with a win at the Australian Open in 2020. Her win came as a surprise to many, but then with Kenin that always seems to be the case. However, her success in Melbourne was no fluke. The young American made the fourth round of the US Open in September and the French Open Final in Octoberr. The question is, will her first Major win be the first of many? We take a look at what lies ahead for Kenin in our 2021 WTA Tour players to watch series.

Junior success a sign of things to come

Sofia Kenin reached a high ranking of #2 in the world as a junior after finishing runner-up in the 2015 Junior US Open final. She also won the USTA Junior National Championships, which gave her a wild card entry into the main draw of the US Open, where she lost in the first round. Playing primarily on the ITF circuit from 2016, Kenin won four ITF titles and finished runner-up in three from 2016 to 2018.

In 2017 she won her first two WTA Tour level matches at the US Open. Kenin made the third round before losing to former champion Maria Sharapova. The wins saw her finish the year ranked 108 in the world and convinced her to turn professional. it was certainly the right choice as 2018 saw her break into the top 50 in the world for the first time.

First WTA semi-finals and top 50 debut in 2018

In 2018 the Moscow native made two Tour-level semifinals. Her first on the grass courts at the Mallorca Open, and her second at the Coupe Banque Nationale in Quebec. These results, plus her win at the ITF Berkeley, saw Kenin ranked inside the Top 50. Kenin consistently displayed elite-level potential throughout her early years as a tennis player. It is strange then that she was relatively unheard of outside of tennis circles until she won the 2020 Australian Open.

Perhaps the biggest contributing factor to this is the way Kenin plays. The young prodigy has no obvious weapon in her arsenal. There is no Ash Barty slice, Serena Williams serve, or Petra Kvitová forehand that she can employ to blow players off the court. However, she is incredibly adept at taking the ball early and rushing her opponents for time. She is undoubtedly one of the best counter-punchers on the women’s tour and almost never makes mistakes. Her will to win and self-confidence are also unmatched on the tour. That kind of tennis often fails to draw attention in the same way the big hitters of the modern game do.

Novak Djokovic is a perfect example of this. He and Kenin share the ability to relentlessly grind opponents into submission. Their games surrender the spotlight to the more attractive tennis played by the Roger Federers, Ash Bartys, Rafael Nadals, and Petra Kvitovás of the tennis world. However, they are equally unplayable and dominant when they are at their best. I’ve watched Kenin win matches on countless occasions by taking the ball early and using the pace of her opponent’s shots to run them all over the court until an error inevitably comes. It isn’t always breath-taking, but it is brutally effective. In fact, Kenin showed just how effective it was with yet more solid results on the tour in 2019.

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2019 brings first tour titles and top 20 debut

The rising star started 2019 by winning the Hobart International without dropping a set. The win was her first WTA Tour title. It was also a sign of things to come for the rest of the year. In February, Kenin made the final of the Mexican Open in Acapulco. She followed up this strong start to the year with improved results on clay. The most notable result of her clay court run came at Roland Garros.

Kenin knocked three-time champion Serena Williams out of the tournament in straight sets in the third round. She was by far the better player in the match and dominated the all-time great from start to finish. Two weeks later she won her second tour title at the Mallorca Open. Kenin beat three Top 20 opponents on the bounce in order to do so. Her hunger to win and never-say-die attitude was certainly bringing her results in 2019. However, the young star wasn’t done yet.

On the U.S. hard court swing, Kenin made back-to-back Premier 5 semifinals at the Rogers Cup and the Cincinnati Open. In both tournaments she lost to the eventual champion. Her hard court success continued on the Asian leg of the tour. Kenin picked up her third title of the year at the Guangzhou International Women’s Open in September of 2019. This strong run of results meant Kenin finished 2019 ranked 12 in the world. The world may not have taken notice of Kenin in 2019 despite her success on the tour. However, they certainly were less than two months into 2020.

First Grand Slam win and second tour title

Kenin’s crowning moment on the tour came on the hard courts of Melbourne at the 2020 Australian Open. The World #12 upset French Open champion and World #1 Ash Barty in the semifinals. She then went on to beat two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza from a set down in the final. The victory was a perfect analogy for her meteoric rise on the tour. No one was talking about Kenin before the tournament and then all of a sudden there she was with the winners trophy in her hand. Once again she proved she deserves to be talked about amongst the elite on the women’s tour. She’s certainly one of the 2021 WTA Tour players to watch after she backed up her early season success with dominant performances as the year went on.

Kenin proved the win in Australia was no fluke by making a run to the final of the French Open later tater in the year. She lost to Iga Świątek in straight sets but amassed a 16-2 record in Grand Slams in 2020. That remarkable record, coupled with a fourth WTA Tour title in Lyon, meant Kenin finished the year ranked fourth in the world. She was also named WTA Player of the Year for her efforts in 2020. After such a remarkable 2020, can she find similar success in 2021?

More titles are a must in 2021

Kenin is now considered among the best of the best on the women’s tour. If she hopes to remain there she must back up her amazing 2020 with more titles and deep Grand Slams runs this year. The women’s tour has seen many champions fail to build on year of brilliance in recent years. Jelena Ostapenko is a perfect example of this. What works in Kenin’s favour is her ruthless desire to win

That hunger, coupled with her now obvious and widely renown talent make her a safe bet to win more Major titles in the future. Whether she can do so this year is certainly worth finding out and more than justifies her place in our 2021 WTA Tour players to watch series.

Main Photo from Getty.