MELBOURNE, Australia -- No.14 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States continued her breakthrough Grand Slam event at the Australian Open on Tuesday, easing past Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, 6-4, 6-4, to claim a spot in her first-ever major semifinal.
"it feels really good," Kenin told the media in her post-match press conference. "I'm super excited for it. I think overall I played really good. I tried to handle the nerves, obviously nerves coming into this match. I think I did a really good job handling myself."
In the first Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance for both players, it was Kenin who used the court best to her advantage, earning a milestone victory after one hour and 32 minutes of play. Kenin improved her head-to-head record against Jabeur to 4-1 with the victory.
"[Jabeur is] a really tough player," said Kenin. "I knew she's going to come out playing strong. She's had really good matches, good wins. It wasn't an easy one, it wasn't an easy battle. All respect to her."
21-year-old Kenin was tidier on the day, with 16 unforced errors to Jabeur's 36. The American was also sturdier on second serve during the clash, winning 55 percent of those points in her service games while claiming nearly two-thirds of Jabeur's second-service deliveries.
"I feel like all the match play I've had has helped me," stated Kenin, who was the WTA co-leader in hardcourt match-wins last season with 38 (tied with Ashleigh Barty). "Of course, I'm rising, so I'm trying to somehow keep my game stable, just play with stability, just play each match one match at a time.
"Of course, I'm really happy. I've worked really hard to get to where I am. I've done a really hard pre-season. I knew that it's going to help me and it's going to pay off. Thank God it's paying off here."
World No.78 Jabeur, who defeated Caroline Wozniacki in the former World No.1's last match, became the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam fourth round and quarterfinal during the fortnight. However, despite firing five aces and winning 16 of 18 points at net, the Tunisian was unable to grab another victory, squandering six of her seven break points in the tilt.
In the final four, Kenin will face World No.1 and homeland heroine Ashleigh Barty, who ousted No.7 seed and 2019 finalist Petra Kvitova in straight sets. Barty leads the head-to-head with Kenin 4-1.
"[I have] played [Barty] a few times, I know her game pretty well," Kenin stated. "It's going to be a good match. I'm excited. Of course, she's playing at her home, so it's a little bit different. I made a lot of new fans. Hopefully I'll get some support, have a good match."
The Kenin slice backhand forced errors from Jabeur early in the match, one of which sealed up a love break and an early 3-1 lead for the American. Kenin, though, double faulted to give Jabeur two break points at 3-2, and a strong return led the Tunisian to convert the first chance and pull back to level terns at 3-3.
Kenin, however, quickly struck again, gritting her way through points and causing errors off the Jabeur forehand to reclaim another break and a 4-3 advantage. Kenin then had to face two more break points in the following game, but ramped up the aggression on her serves and groundstrokes to blast her way out of danger and reach 5-3.
Jabeur saved two set points with powerful play of her own to hold for 5-4, as the Tunisian deployed all variety of shot to keep Kenin at bay. Jabeur then staved off three more set points in the next game, after which she fired a crosscourt forehand to garner break point. Kenin, though, steeled herself, and reeled off three points in succession to convert her sixth set point.
Jabeur had chances to take command of the second set when she collected three break points while leading 3-2. However, the tenacious Kenin continued to hit her targets throughout extended rallies with regularity, and the American eventually evaded all of those chances to earn a hard-fought hold for 3-3.
Directly after missing those break points, Jabeur faltered with errors to give Kenin triple break point in the subsequent game. The crafty Tunisian erased all three of those opportunities, but a fourth came Kenin’s way after a wide miscue by Jabeur. There, another forehand by the unseeded player missed the mark wide, and Kenin grasped the first break of the second set.
That service break would prove to be decisive, as Kenin had no trouble holding serve for the remainder of the affair. Unlike the opening set, Kenin wrapped up the second set with ease, converting her first match point with a strong serve that was returned into the net by her worthy opponent.