PARIS, France - No.4 seed Sofia Kenin faced a stern opening-round test against Liudmila Samsonova, going the distance on a rainy afternoon in Paris to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
The reigning Australian Open champion Kenin had to contend with an inspired opponent looking for her first Grand Slam victory - as well as a nearly two-hour long rain delay between the first two sets of the match.
She stayed focused to claim the first clay court win of the season, coming back from a break down in the final set as she fired 26 winners and broke the Samsonova serve six times en route to victory.
“I'm really happy with this win,” Kenin said in her post-match press conference. “It's always tough to play first match at a major.
“Conditions weren't the best. It was really tough with the courts, and it was raining and we went inside and then it started raining again. Yeah, conditions weren't easy at all, but I'm just happy with the way I competed and found a way to win.
“I didn't feel like I was playing my best tennis, but of course she was playing really well, but I'm just happy to have gone through the first round.”
Kenin made a strong start on Court Suzanne Lenglen, going for the drop shot early and was rewarded with a break in the opening game to take a 2-0 lead. But she struggled to shake off Samsonova as the Russian brought them back level after trading breaks to make it 3-3.
With the rain starting to come down more heavily, Kenin finally took the lead with a decisive break of serve at 5-4 - helped along by one of Samsonova’s six double faults in the opening set as Kenin kept the pressure on her vulnerable serve. The American closed out the set 6-4, but had to quickly leave the court as play was suspended.
“I was so anxious to go and play already,” Kenin said of the nearly two-hour delay. “I was trying to ask, How much longer? I kind of want to go out and play. I don't want to sit here until late at night and play.”
“I knew she would pick up her game, she would change some things since she lost the first set,” she added.
Kenin’s prediction proved correct as the players returned to the court, and Samsonova raised her level to race ahead to a 3-0 lead after an early break. The Russian kept the points short against Kenin and fired winners off both wings, extending her lead to 5-1. Kenin grabbed one of the breaks back, but couldn’t halt her momentum as Samsonova closed out the set 6-3 to force a decider.
After another short rain delay, Samsonova looked set to keep things rolling in the third as she started the set with a 2-0 lead. But Kenin stayed patient and continued to pressure the Russian’s serve, getting the break back two games later before retaking the lead at 3-2.
Kenin bossed proceedings from there as Samsonova started to lose steam, escaping with a hard-fought victory after a two-hour and 11-minute opening-round test, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.
“Going into the tournaments, I feel like when I'm high seeded I feel like people are watching me, just a bit more pressure from the outside,” Kenin reflected. “But that's obviously good, means like they know I'm fierce, tough, not an easy opponent.
“I'm just trying to one match at a time, even though everyone is kind of watching me from the outside and not saying anything.”
Last week in Rome, Kenin began her French Open preparations at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, but couldn’t get going as Victoria Azarenka routed her in straight sets, 6-0, 6-0. The American bounced back in Paris as she advanced to the second round here for the second year in a row.
“After Rome, that's a match that I never want to watch,” Kenin said with a wry smile. “Of course Vika played really well. I'm not going to take anything away. She came out playing some really good tennis and I just obviously felt like I couldn't find my game.
“After that, we came to Paris and I had a week or so to practice, get used to the clay. Yeah, I just tried to not think about that match.”
Kenin will take on Ana Bogdan in her next match, after the Romanian player defeated Timea Babos 6-4, 6-2 earlier in the day to make her way to the second round.