Sofia Kenin has sauntered into the limelight after becoming the youngest Australian Open champion since Maria Sharapova in 2008 and faces heightened expectations in her career.
She is the new American No 1 – eclipsing Serena Williams – and the World No 7. She moves comfortably in the space occupied by next-gen players like Coco Gauff, Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu and, in fact, has become a threat to all of them and there’s no doubt that the 21-year-old’s life has changed forever.
She has to deal with attention from multiple angles and the past has shown that it is not easy to deal with, with many players admitting to difficulty in coping up with such expectations. The Moscow-born American, however, is relishing her new-found fame in a positive way.
“I obviously want to keep it going. I like all the attention and everything, but, I try to at least focus on the match. That’s what I got to figure out, how to manage the expectations and people talking from the outside,” Kenin said ahead of the start of her singles campaign at Qatar Total Open today.
Being thrust into the spotlight after winning a Grand Slam is one thing, but being looked up to by millions around the world as a by-product is quite another and Kenin, who defeated Serena Williams in the third round of the 2019 French Open and has twice reached round two at Wimbledon, has kept her feet firmly on the ground.
Asked how things have changed for her since Melbourne, she said: “Yeah, I just feel like a lot of people are watching and like obviously talking from the outside. I mean, obviously the racket doesn’t feel that heavy, it’s still the same, but, I feel like I really want to start off well and keep my momentum going forward. So hopefully I can do that this week and more weeks to come,” Kenin, who is seeded sixth at the Qatar Total Open and has a first-round bye, said.
After winning her maiden major title, the American headed straight to Everett to represent the United States at Fed Cup, where she went 1-1 in singles. In Dubai last week, she lost to eventual runners-up Kazakhistan’s Elena Rybakina.
Kenin wants to keep her momentum going in the first Premier 5 event of the season in Doha.
“Before Australia and everything there was different kind of pressure, but I did have like expectations, I was hard on myself. I want to do well in every tournament, so it’s not a surprise. And nothing’s changed from my side the way I am, because I hate losing.”
Sofia had some success in doubles too and she plans to play doubles in some events.
“For sure I will play doubles in some tournaments, but I’m a singles player, so obviously some tournaments I’m not going to play doubles. But of course all the Premier 5s, all the Grand Slams, it’s definitely an option to play doubles there.”
She is playing doubles with Swiss Star Belinda Bencic in Doha.
Kenin also has an Olympic dream in her sights.
“That was the goal at the start of the year. Yes, Olympics were among my goals for the year,” she said.
Kenin has a unique ball toss while serving but feels it’s natural. “Yes it’s natural, it’s just happened like that when I was little. And we tried to change it, it didn’t work. I have done it like that, I won a Grand Slam, so I think I can live with that and do the same thing.”
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