HOBART, Australia - Sofia Kenin is though to her first Hobart International semifinal, edging past a relentless Kirsten Flipkens in straight sets.
It’s a third career WTA semifinal for the 20-year-old American, who was born in Moscow. She started out the week by springing a huge upset in the first round, taking down top seed Caroline Garcia in straight sets for the second time in as many meetings - and then backed it up with a comeback win over Ons Jabeur.
Her quarterfinal opponent, Flipkens, just had her 33rd birthday today - but Kenin’s victory made it a bittersweet celebration, with the American advancing 7-5, 7-5 after an hour and 41 minutes.
“I’m very happy with the way I’ve been playing,” Kenin told press afterwards. “Obviously it’s really tough with these conditions, but to get these wins definitely gives me confidence going into the Australian Open.”
Kenin was the more aggressive player throughout the two sets against the tricky Flipkens, firing off 21 winners to 33 unforced errors. Flipkens wasn’t too far behind, though, with 19 winners and 34 unforced errors, but the key to the match was in the break chances: Kenin created 12 chances to break - converting four times, twice in each set - while Flipkens could only take advantage of two breaks from three opportunities.
“I think the difference was that I fight a lot,” Kenin said. “In these conditions, you’re not going to play your best tennis. Today I didn’t feel like my game was all there, but I just fight until the end.”
Flipkens and Kenin were very evenly matched in the opening set, playing long games and short rallies as the Tasmanian heat took a toll on the players. Kenin drew first blood at 1-0, but her opponent quickly brought them back level a few games later at 2-2.
The pair wrestled for the momentum, with the next six games narrowly going to the server. But Kenin kept Flipkens under pressure, bringing up three break chances as the Belgian scraped out of a 0-40 bind at 5-4. She was finally rewarded with a decisive late break at 6-5, serving it out to claim the opening set.
The same pattern unfolded in the second set: after dodging three break chances, Flipkens went down an early break at 2-1, but rallied back at 3-3 to get them back level. And, once again, Kenin patiently awaited her chances, until a late break at 6-5 sealed the set - and the match - for the American.
Up next, Kenin awaits the winner between qualifier Greet Minnen and No.6 seed Alize Cornet in the semifinals.
“I’m just taking it one match at a time,” Kenin said. “Obviously it’s good to be in the semis and getting my win with Genie [Bouchard] at Auckland in doubles was great as well.
“I’ve been trying to carry that momentum, but trying not to think too far ahead.”