19-year-old American Sofia Kenin has had a breakthrough season in 2018, cracking the Top 100 for the first time in March and going on to establish herself firmly as a WTA Tour regular.
A second-round showing as a qualifier in Indian Wells enabled Kenin to break the barrier, and she immediately backed it up by going one better in Miami to reach the third round - via her first ever Top 20 win over Daria Kasatkina. Kenin has also made her mark as the Tour moved to Europe, making her maiden WTA semifinal on the grass of Mallorca in June - and scoring another career-best win en route, this time over World No.6 Caroline Garcia in the quarterfinals.
Kenin, who goes by the name of Sonya, spoke to wtatennis.com to break down what has propelled her into the Top 100, as well as what is to come for the rest of the year.
1. Kenin has breached a level on the WTA unmatched by many of her peers.
Once Kenin cracked the Top 100 on March 19, following her performance at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, she became one of only four teenagers ranked within that stratum. When she reached her career high of No.64, there was no one younger than Kenin ranked ahead of her.
In her interview with wtatennis.com, Kenin was asked what might differentiate her from other players her age, during a period of time where teenage sensations are hardly as frequent as they once were.
“I think what sets me apart from my peers of the same age are my complete dedication to tennis, my focus, and my versatile tennis skills - that I’m constantly trying to improve."
— WTA (@WTA) January 6, 2018
2. After a 2017 which featured solid improvement, 2018 started off with a bang.
Kenin’s journey into the Top 100 kicked off early in the 2018 season, with a run to the first WTA quarterfinal of her career at the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, before falling to top seed Caroline Wozniacki after a tough 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 encounter.
“Playing against Caroline was a really good confidence booster for me to start the year,” said Kenin. “I always knew and believed that I can compete with the top pros, and I proved it to myself and to everyone.”
The gravity of that close result was underscored a few weeks later, when Wozniacki marched to her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open, as well as a return to the World No.1 ranking.
Yet after that turn of events, Kenin was just as concerned with how meaningful the result was for Wozniacki as it had been for her.
“[Wozniacki’s] a great player and a very nice person,” Kenin continued. “I have a lot of respect for her. I was happy for her when she won the Australian Open and became No.1.”
3. Kenin flourishes in big events, which has been a key to her ranking rise this year.
Kenin’s passage into to the Top 100 has been bolstered by her strong play in top-tier events, in which she seems to thrive.
“I love the big stages!” exclaimed Kenin. “I feel very special there and I like to show my best game. I like getting the crowd going - on my side, of course - and I love when they cheer me on! I have confidence on big stages and I perform well there. My fans deserve the very best.”
For example, Kenin eased into the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time at the US Open last year, after having won the US Open Wild Card Challenge for the second straight year to get into the main draw. The teenager turned professional directly after that excellent result.
Moreover, this year, she cemented her spot in the Top 100 by following up her second-round showing in Indian Wells with a third-round appearance at the Miami Open. In Miami, Kenin ousted BNP Paribas Open runner-up Daria Kasatkina before pushing two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to three tough sets.
“I played a great match, third round against Petra Kvitova, and almost won the match," said Kenin. "The atmosphere was so great and a lot of people were cheering for me.
“After the Miami Open, I got a lot of confidence, because I had great matches and I was playing very well throughout the tournament,” Kenin continued. “I know that I can do many more things, so I will just keep working hard and I know this will pay off for me.”
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) August 29, 2017
4. Kenin’s home Grand Slam tournament has held numerous successes, and will be a pivotal milestone for her 2018 season.
The American has achieved some of her biggest accomplishments on the USTA National Tennis Center grounds in Flushing Meadows, and her excitement to post another sterling result at the US Open is palpable.
“I love playing in New York!” proclaimed Kenin. “I just love the city, the people of New York, the special atmosphere from the crowd.
“I have lots of great memories from the US Open during my junior career, when I got to the US Open junior finals [in 2015],” she continued, referencing her career-best Grand Slam finish during her celebrated stint as a top junior player, peaking at a career-best No.2 in the ITF World Junior Rankings.
“I was working very hard in the summers of 2015, 2016, 2017 to win wild cards to the main draw of US Open for three years in a row,” said Kenin, which she achieved in all three of those instances. “This year I will work even harder to get in into main draw on my own ranking.”
The young American will surely aim to match or better her 2017 result, where she claimed victories over compatriots Lauren Davis and Sachia Vickery before succumbing to former World No.1 Maria Sharapova in an electric third-round night match.
“I enjoyed every moment of experience playing against Maria,” Kenin stated. “She is a legend and a great player and it was definitely the biggest stage that I’ve played on in my life! It was an experience that I will never forget.
“I am planning to keep working hard, and do my very best to peak for US Open this year.”
5. Kenin does not want to rest on her laurels, and will continue to work on her game to continue her upward trajectory.
Having raised her ranking from No.113 at the end of 2017 to a career high of No.64 in 2018, Kenin is on track to climb further upwards throughout the season, thereby achieving her goal for 2018, which is “to reach Top 50 - or get real close.”
“I have room for improvement in my game such as my movement on the court and setting up some patterns of how I want to control the point,” said Kenin, when asked how she would like to enhance her game in order to reach her goals. “My serve and return can be improved. My fitness has definitely improved, but I need to keep working more on it, because I see how fitness makes a difference.”
The young American is not yet fully satisfied, but she is certainly proud of her achievements so far. “I am very happy!” she enthused. “I worked very hard for [the Top 100 ranking].
“It feels great to belong to Top 100 players’ club, but I have no plans to stop. I know that it will take a lot work to be in it and climb higher. I’m ready and I’m looking forward to do it!”