DUBAI, UAE - Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin was sent crashing back down to earth on Tuesday night at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where she was stunned in a three-set battle in her first WTA match since Melbourne.
Visibly downcast heading into her post-match press conference, the 21-year-old was honest about her disappointment after letting a set lead slip away against Elena Rybakina to fall 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-3.
Read more: Rybakina rallies past Kenin in Dubai debut
“Yeah, I'm not happy. I'm really upset about this,” Kenin told journalists. “I really thought I could have somehow turned it around.
“I felt like I had the match play, I had the confidence. It just didn't work out today. It's obviously really upsetting and disappointing at the moment.”
Despite firing 28 winners and just nine unforced errors in the high-quality battle, Kenin didn’t cut herself any slack, adding, “I feel like I need to be hard on myself in order to make sure I'm still in check and doing what I want to do and playing how I want to play...
“I think if I wouldn't be hard on myself, I wouldn't have good results.”
The American regardless had nothing but praise for her on-the-rise opponent, who came hot on the heels of a run to the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy final and is a newly minted member of the WTA’s Top 20 as a result.
“She's playing big, serving, playing freely,” Kenin said of Rybakina’s turnaround. “She's playing as if she has no pressure and it's helping her.”
“I just made too many unforced errors. I just didn't take my chances. I felt really off the whole match. I tried to somehow get back in there, hang in there, but it just didn't work out today.”
Kenin was the third seed to fall on a Day 1 full of surprises, with defending champion Belinda Bencic, the No.4 seed, falling to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in three sets and No.3 seed Elina Svitolina getting routed by American qualifier Jennifer Brady earlier in the day.
“I just think the opponents, they played well. They obviously have no pressure. They're playing more freely,” Kenin reflected.
“I just feel like there's more pressure on me obviously, and them. I'm sure it's a lot of expectations.”
With her first WTA match as a reigning Grand Slam champion in the books, Kenin was eager to turn a page and look ahead. She’s set to hit the courts in Dubai again for doubles, partnered with Bethanie Mattek-Sands, with whom she lifted the China Open trophy last year in Beijing.
The pair are up against the No.6 seeds Kveta Peschke and Demi Schuurs seeking a spot in the quarterfinals.
“I just got to prepare for doubles for tomorrow. Hopefully we can get the win,” Kenin said. “[Then] next is Doha for me. I will try to do my best. There's a lot more tournaments coming up, obviously more important ones and bigger ones. Hopefully I can play better there.
“Obviously there is where it matters and where it counts. Hopefully I can bring my game up there.”