MELBOURNE, Australia - Having seized the day in stunning fashion to capture her maiden Grand Slam trophy, brand new Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin knew exactly how she had got here.
"I did it with all the belief that I've had," she stated firmly. "I've always had that." The American's self-confidence has been a hallmark of her rise: one of the words most attached to her has been that of "fighter", a player who never loses faith in herself, regardless of how far down she is on the scoreboard nor how physically overmatched.
"Not really," she shrugged when asking whether she remembered the last time she felt doubt, before running through her accomplishments since this time last year. "2019, I started off great with a first WTA title in Hobart. After that things just took off. I had a great run in Paris. Played my idol, Serena [Williams]. Lost to Ash [Barty] there. Got the revenge here... I knew I had to establish myself to get where I am. All the confidence has come with all the matches that I've had, the success I've had in 2019. WTA Most Improved Player of the Year, FYI."
Though Kenin's transition from former junior World No.2 to a top professional has been a smooth one, the 21-year-old has rarely garnered some of the more excitable headlines of some of her peers. Nonetheless, she talks about her journey as though every step has been expected - by her at her team, at least. "I see that things are happening for me," she smiled. "Everything is just falling into place."
At key stages during her 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over former World No.1 Garbiñe Muguruza, Kenin would call on this attitude to find a new level. Serving at 2-2, 0-40 in the deciding set, the American played five outstanding points to hold serve - a game that would prove crucial. "I can remember that game very well, yes," she recalled. "That's the game I feel like changed things... I knew I had to take my chance. I had to be brave playing a two-time Grand Slam champion. I knew I needed to come up with the best shot, five best shots of my life. I mean, let's go!"
Self-confidence might be Kenin's default state of mind, but she also emphasized that this kind of mentality isn't automatic - indeed, she wryly pointed out that she's been so nervous this fortnight that she's been crying before her matches, as tweeted out by her friend Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The effort Kenin needed to put into sustaining her mental strength was most evident just before that massive service hold, when she was visibly emotional even after points she had won. "I felt that in the third set, I felt like I was getting closer to the title, something that I really want," she said afterwards. "I knew I needed to somehow try and relax, just try to calm down. I did a great job. I looked a few times to my box. They cheered for me, calmed me down. It just paid off... After that, I was on fire. I was ready to take the beautiful trophy."
Unsurprisingly, then, Kenin was keen to pay tribute to her supporters, particularly father and coach Alex. "He's been my coach throughout my whole career," she told reporters. "He's been there for me. I really have him to thank. We've been dreaming about this. It's a dream come true for us. He's told me a lot of positive things. He knows exactly what he's talking about. He's helping me with the game plan. He sees everything well. Even though I don't like to admit it sometimes, to tell him he's right. Yeah, he really works hard. Just thank you to him. We can share this forever."
Kenin's mother Lena, who gets too nervous to watch her daughter play, remained at home with the player's sister, grandmother and dogs - "I told her I'm not going to be able to talk to you for hours, but at least you know that I won - I'm coming home, you can give me the biggest hug of your life," she said - but the new champion was still cheered on by a crew of formidable women. Former World No.1 and 2009 finalist Dinara Safina was in her box today, Mattek-Sands has been a source of support as well as Twitter banter ever since their run to the Beijing doubles title last October - and, of course, four-time major champion Kim Clijsters, whose 2005 clip showing a six-year-old Kenin around the Miami Open went viral ahead of the final.
"To Kim, I just want to say thank you so much for that day, for spending time with me, taking time off," said Kenin. "I know she had a busy schedule. She took time off and gave me some great words of wisdom, said some really great things about me. It was a really exciting moment for me. I hope I can do that for someone else in the future. I would love to. I know what it felt like. I've been there."
Back in the present, though, Kenin, who described herself as "a fancy girl" after her semifinal win, has some ideas in mind for a few beautiful accoutrements for her beautiful trophy - and Melbourne's Cartier store should be preparing accordingly. "I got my eye on a few things," she said. "I'm super excited. I just want to get the gifts I want to get - the ring and the nail bracelet."