SHENZHEN, China - Sofia Kenin might not have qualified for the Shiseido WTA Finals, but the No.12-ranked American still made the trip to Shenzhen, China. Eagle-eyed tennis fans have spotted Kenin in the stands throughout the week, taking in all the action at the Finals as she fulfills her duties as an alternate.
But what does it take to be a WTA Finals alternate? It’s definitely more than just an all-expense trip to Shenzhen, according to Kenin.
“My job is to be here already and just be on call,” Kenin told wtatennis.com. “I’m doing everything I can to be ready. I’m just chilling, relaxing.
“We’ll see if I’m going to get in, but if not, I’m just gonna relax. It’s like a mini start to vacation, kind of! But of course, you just have to always be ready to play.”
Expected to fill in should a singles player have to withdraw from the round robin stage of the tournament, an alternate has been called upon only eight times since the WTA Finals introduced the round robin format in 2003. Most recently Kiki Bertens, the first alternate, replaced Naomi Osaka after the Japanese player withdrew due to a right shoulder injury earlier in the day.
That means that Kenin moves into the first alternate position, and will be the next player called up should another withdrawal take place.
Only twice has there been a situation where both alternates are used, with Agnieszka Radwanska and Nadia Petrova filling in for Serena Williams and Ana Ivanovic in 2008, and Vera Zvonareva replacing Dinara Safina in 2009, with Radwanska later taking Zvonareva’s spot.
“I was surprised that I was the second alternate, and now I’m first again,” Kenin said. “That was a big surprise. What happened with Naomi... of course, I’m sure this was not the place where she wanted to get injured, but I wish her a speedy recovery.”
So what does the day-to-day life look like for an alternate as the WTA Finals round robin stage unfolds?
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“Being an alternate is pretty lowkey,” Kenin admitted. “You gotta just be ready, chill, and somehow not treat it like you’re not going to play. You gotta be ready to play.
“Of course, you better hope that you’re going to play!” she added with a laugh. “But I’m not wishing anything bad on any of the girls, of course. I’m just going to see what happens.”
Kenin arrived in Shenzhen straight from Zhuhai - a two-hour drive away - where she competed in the WTA Elite Trophy for the first time. After narrowly falling in the round robin stage, Kenin reported to the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center on Sunday and will stay until Friday, the final day of Finals round robin action.
“I practice in the mornings and then just rest the whole day, get massages,” she said. “I’m taking it pretty easy. I don’t necessarily have to be here too much, since [the hotel] is literally so close [to the stadium], it’s not far.”
Finishing the season at a career-high No.12 in the WTA rankings, Kenin capped her breakthrough season lifting three singles trophies and amassing more hardcourt wins than any other woman on tour.
Although originally Kenin’s biggest goal for next season was to break the Top 10, after getting a taste of the WTA Finals experience the American is now aiming a bit higher.
“My experience’s just been amazing here. I mean just everything, the hospitality. They treat you… like a brat!” she laughed. “You know, everything you need, it’s there. You can get used to it.
“And of course, I see what it takes to get here, which is just literally hard work. But it’s good, you get a lot of reward after. It’s worth trying and fighting for the wins and everything, because you’re going to get spoiled here. It’s a big motivation to come back here.”
She added: “I would love to be Top 10 by the end of the year. But I guess the main goal would be to qualify for Shenzhen, so that’d be Top 8.”