Sofia Kenin’s first major title arrived at the Australian Open on Saturday as she overcame the challenge of Garbiñe Muguruza to win in three sets.
While many commentators pointed out that her game may lack a natural big weapon, a common theme to emerge was a great respect for the mentality that she consistently shows on court.
“The American's relentless returning, ability to execute under pressure and an insatiable will-to-win ground down the Spaniard, who led by a set before being mentally and physically worn down in Saturday's final in Melbourne,” the BBC’s Jonathan Jurejko said.
It was a sentiment echoed by the Washington Post’s Ava Wallace, who said: “The 21-year-old Floridian came alive under the bright lights and closed roof of Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne and fist-pumped away any pressure she might have felt playing in her first major tournament final Saturday at the Australian Open.
“Even when facing pressure-packed break points, her aggressive level of play hardly dipped throughout the more than two-hour match.”
Sophie Dorgon, writing in L’Equipe, arguably summed it up best.
“The daughter of Russian parents who emigrated to the United States, Sofia Kenin embodies the inner strength of players who carry the past of their own as a legacy. With it, tennis is no longer a game, it is a struggle for life, for death,” she said.
It was a spirit encapsulated by a defining moment in the deciding set, Howard Fendrich of Japan Today argued: “This, essentially, was where Sofia Kenin was going to win or lose the Australian Open final: she was down love-40 while serving at 2-all in the third set against two-time major champion Garbiñe Muguruza.
“Kenin came through in spectacular fashion.”
Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim pointed out: “This will go down as a surprise win. The 14th-seeded Kenin had never played deep in a major and had only won three small titles. But she has an unbreakable backhand, a connoisseur’s taste for battle and a relentlessness shared by few other players. Don’t be surprised if this result seems less surprising as time goes by.”
In the Wall Street Journal, Jason Gay, praised Kenin’s sense of geometry and point to a “career-making breakthrough for a talent who may have been previously overlooked, because Kenin doesn’t possess the showiest skill set”.
Meanwhile, Simon Briggs of The Telegraph suggested that there is more than a hint of one of her heroes to her demeanour on court.
“With her father and coach Alexander at her side, Kenin has the fierceness and focus of a young Maria Sharapova,” he wrote.
Kevin Mitchell, writing for The Guardian, hailed the birth of a new star in Melbourne, writing: “She is moving comfortably in space occupied by Coco Gauff, Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Bianca Andreescu and Simona Halep. She is a threat to all of them.”