HOBART, Australia - For the second time in as many weeks this season, Sofia Kenin has ousted a seeded player in the first round of a tournament - today dismissing No.1 seed Caroline Garcia from the Hobart International 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 13 minutes.
It was also the second win in as many encounters with Garcia for the unseeded 20-year-old, who had beaten the Frenchwoman 6-3, 6-3 in the quarterfinals of Mallorca last year for her maiden Top 10 victory. Having put last week's Auckland No.4 seed Petra Martic to the sword in the opening round as well, Kenin certainly enters the Australian Open with her upset artist credentials significantly burnished.
Garcia had taken a last-minute wildcard into the tournament in a bid to find some form, following her shock first-round exit in Shenzhen last week at the hands of World No.131 Ivana Jorovic. Indeed, the 2017 Wuhan and Beijing champion started the match authoritatively, hammering down aces and unreturnable serves to win her first two service games to love while her opponent was twice forced to withstand 30-30 pressure.
But once Kenin got her eye in on return, the American rapidly proved the more strategic and versatile player. Finding the angles, moving the ball around the court superbly and luring Garcia into net to set up neat passes, Kenin broke on her third break point of the set with a fizzing backhand return winner to move up 5-3. A game later, the World No.56 had sealed her third straight 6-3 set against Garcia - the third of a seven-game streak in which it was Kenin who seemed to take on the role of top seed and favorite.
As Kenin maintained impeccable depth and consistency, a cascade of mistakes - often within the first few shots of a rally - began to pour from the Garcia racquet. Both wings were responsible as the former World No.4 racked up 28 unforced errors, outweighing her tally of 21 winners.
But it was the lower-ranked player who was also by far the better on big points, firmly repelling any of the match's potential turning points. Kenin saved all three of the break points that she faced with positive serving and ball-striking; and held firm in a six-deuce tussle in the third game of the second set to withstand Garcia's last-ditch attempt to power back into the match and seal the double break on her sixth opportunity.
Down 0-4, Garcia would finally halt Kenin's winning streak with a comfortable hold - but although all of her break points would come in the closing stages of the match, the danger had passed for a confident Kenin. The youngest player in the Top 60, whose backhand was in particularly fine shape today, continued to raise her winner tally to 20, and finished efficiently on her first match point with her second ace of the day.
Kenin's reward is a second-round clash with the mercurial talent of Ons Jabeur - while Garcia heads into the first major of 2019 with some worrying warm-up form to overcome.