Friday, January 11, 2019
Sofia 'Down-Under' -- A Tennis Prodigy Comes Of Age
by Harry Cummins
The 2019 Australian Open begins Monday and attention will be rightly focused on 38 year-old defending champion Roger Federer, who is seeking his 3rd straight and 7th overall Australian Open crown, his 21st career Grand-Slam title, and career tournament victory number 100.
My concentration, however, will center on the women's draw and the meteoric rise of 20 year old former prodigy Sofia Kenin. This week at the Hobart International in Australia, the unseeded Kenin has stormed into her first WTA singles final, knocking off three seeded players along the way, including No 1 seed Caroline Garcia in the opening round and No 6 seed Alize Cornet in the semi's. She has yet to drop a set in 4 matches of the tournament.
Coached by her father Alex since she was 5 years old, this 5'7" Russian born American achieved No 1 national rankings as a 12,14,16, and 18 year old phenom. As a junior player, Kenin captured the prestigious 2015 USTA Girl's 18's National Championship in San Diego at the age of just 16. She defeated Tornado Alicia Black 6-2,5-7,7-5 in a 3 hour battle to earn an automatic berth into the '15 U.S. Open Draw.
Known as Sonya to her friends, Kenin turned pro in 2017 at the age 18 after pocketing $140,000 for her 7-5,6-2 third round defeat at the U.S. Open to fellow Russian Maria Sharapova. She turned down a University of Miami scholarship in making her decision.
Yet a teenager, Kenin debuted in the top 100 of the WTA rankings last year. The Pembroke Pines, Florida resident has currently advanced all the way to number 56 in the world and a win in the Hobart International this weekend over Anna Korolina Schmiedlova should elevate her even higher in the rankings.
(Update--Kenin defeated Schmiedlova in straight sets Friday night(,6-4,6-0) to win her first ever WTA singles title, moving up 19 spots in the rankings and will enter the Australian Open next week as the 36th ranked player in the world)
Sometimes you can watch an athlete at an early age and just know that they have that certain"It." In the case of Sofia Kenin, I first saw it on a cool,overcast August morning in 2015 at the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego. Watching Kenin win that dramatic 3 set championship match with Black, I saw a young athlete strutting the court with confidence, in possession of a full array of physical and mental weapons. Her devastating drop shot that day almost seemed unfair.
Play begins Monday in Melbourne, Australia in the first Grand-Slam of a new season. While the rest of the tennis world tracks Serena, Simona, and Sloane, I will have my glance transfixed on the emergent escapades of 'Sofia..... Down Under.'
A prodigy has come of age.