The only time Sofia Kenin appeared nervous or unsure of herself on Rod Laver Arena last night was when she was waiting to be presented to the packed crowd as the new women’s Australian Open champion.
- Sofia Kenin fought back from a set down to win in three against two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza
- Kenin believes her self-belief and mental toughness were cornerstones of her Australian Open victory
- She is coached by her father Alexander, who has guided his daughter since she was a child prodigy
Kenin gave several puzzled looks and took some deep breaths before she received the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup and gave a gracious speech as a first-time major winner.
She also seemed a little overwhelmed when she entered her media conference at Melbourne Park a few hours later.
The 21-year-old American muttered “Oh my God” more than once when she saw the number of reporters gathered to hear her thoughts on the victory over Garbine Muguruza in the tournament decider.
But if Kenin came across as apprehensive after the final, she was anything but during her three-set win.
Losing the first set to two-time major winner Muguruza did not faze her, nor did she panic when she faced three break points at 0-40 down in the fifth game of the third.
With Muguruza threatening to go 3-2 up with a break, Kenin calmly held serve on the back of some clean winners from both the backhand and forehand wings, as well as an ace hit out wide.
Kenin felt she was “on fire” from that moment on, as she then broke the Spaniard’s serve in the following game and did so again in the eighth to clinch the 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory in what was her maiden appearance in the final of a major.
@AustralianOpen video tweet: “Maiden Slam Moment!”
The fact she found a way to hold serve in that fifth game and do so by playing her shots did not at all surprise the 14th-seeded Kenin, who entered the Australian Open following a breakout 2019 season.
She simply puts it down to sheer self-belief, which she says she has had in abundance ever since she was a young child hitting the tennis courts in her home state of Florida.
“I’ve always had that,” said Kenin, who beat Australia’s world number one Ash Barty to qualify for the final.
“I knew I needed to establish myself to get to where I am. All the confidence has come with all the matches that I’ve had, the success I’ve had in 2019.
“I’ve always had that. Match play has really helped me. All the confidence that I’m getting is because of that.
“I see that things are happening for me. Everything is just falling into place.”
As she pointed out, a lack of self assurance has never been an issue for Kenin.
During the Australian Open video footage emerged on social media of a seven-year-old Kenin being interviewed about her tennis ambitions.
Kenin, who also goes by the first name Sonya, explained in the interview that she wanted to be “number one in the world” when she grew up.
Sofia Kenin interviewed when aged seven
She also gave an astonishingly detailed breakdown of how she would tackle the booming serve of her then-idol, Andy Roddick.
A number of her underage rivals could attest to Kenin’s drive and unnerving self-belief, as she racked up title after title on her way to being ranked number two on the ITF world junior rankings in 2013.
Kenin’s mental toughness ‘paying off’
Describing herself as a “tough cookie”, Kenin feels her never-say-die attitude has been crucial to her rise up the WTA rankings, which will climb to number seven on the back of her win in Melbourne.
“I feel like mental toughness has been a huge part,” she said.
“I’ve worked on that over the course of the years. It’s just paying off. “
Muguruza, who doubled faulted on Kenin’s second championship point, noted the self-belief and mental toughness of her younger opponent when she reflected on that pivotal fifth game of the third set.
The former world number one — who has won French Open (2016) and Wimbledon (2017) crowns — was left impressed with how Kenin backed herself when she was down three break points.
“I was nervous when I played my first grand slam final,” said the 26-year-old Muguruza, who was unseeded in Melbourne.
“The last set, in the tough moments, she came out with very good shots.”
Family pivotal to Kenin’s success
Kenin’s emotional strength has much to do with her close relationship with her parents.
Her mother Lena is too nervous to watch her matches so did not travel to Melbourne, while her father Alexander has been her coach since her days as a child prodigy.
Kenin’s parents had moved to the US from the Soviet Union, before returning to Moscow where their daughter was born in 1998.
But the family soon moved back to the US when Kenin was a baby and they eventually settled in Florida.
Father and daughter shared a beautiful moment just moments after the conclusion of the final when Kenin made her way over to her player’s box on Rod Laver Arena.
And they were almost inseparable as Kenin waded through all her post-final media commitments.
“He was so happy,” Kenin said.
“I was so happy. We shared this together. “He was like, ‘what just happened?’ I’m just on cloud nine.
“I still can’t believe what just happened. He’s just so happy.”
Kenin’s parents made a number of sacrifices to help her follow her tennis ambitions, a fact not lost on the freshly crowned Australian Open winner.
“Thank you to my parents for giving me the American dream,” a humble Kenin said with a smile.