MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Sofia Kenin enjoys the bright lights and the big city, which is why she aspires to reside in Manhattan one day and perhaps explains why she is thriving on the Grand Slam stage right now.
“Maybe because of ‘Gossip Girl.’ . . . I love New York. I just love it there,” the 21-year-old American said. “Central Park. All of Fifth Avenue. All those shops. I’m a fancy girl. I like those shops, living the life.”
Kenin sure is at the center of it all at the Australian Open, where she will face two-time major champion and former No. 1 Garbine Muguruza in the final Saturday.
“I don’t want to be (on) defense against her. She can really put the ball away. She’s really aggressive,” Kenin said. “So I feel like it’s going to be who’s controlling the points more, who is dictating. Of course, defense is obviously going to help.”
This will be the 14th-seeded Kenin’s debut in a Gran Slam title match; she never had been past the fourth round until now.
But her gritty and varied style carried her past 15-year-old star-in-the-making Coco Gauff and the top-seeded Ash Barty in Week 2 at Melbourne Park.
“You don’t experience this so often. Of course, I’m going to enjoy it. This is so exciting. Literally, butterflies,” said Kenin, whose words tumble out of her mouth as speedily as her legs carry her around a court.
“I’m just going to also focus on what I need to do, focus on my game. I got here. It’s time to shine.”
She’s still just as precocious and self-believing as she was at age 7, when she told a TV interviewer in a video clip making the rounds on social media that she could return a serve from 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick.
That sort of attitude was on display in her semifinal against Barty on Thursday, when Kenin twice was a point from losing the first set and then twice a point from losing the second before closing out the 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 victory.
“She has the ability to adapt. She has the ability to try different things, control the center of the court,” said Barty, the reigning French Open champion.
“She’s extremely confident at the moment, as well,” Barty said.
Kenin began 2019 ranked No. 52 and with zero tour-level titles and finished it at No. 12 and with three singles trophies.
She says she thinks the biggest win of her career until now helped propel that surge: a third-round victory over Serena Williams at Roland Garros last May.
“They were cheering for Serena. She’s my idol. Winning that match really was a lot of emotions. After that, I felt like it took off,” Kenin said. “Yeah, things just started falling into place for me.”
Kenin is coached by her father, Alexander, who moved the family from Russia to Florida after Kenin was born.
Asked after the win over Barty how Kenin might handle her first appearance in a major final, Dad was honest.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Today was (her) first Grand Slam semifinal.”
Muguruza has been there, done that, in tennis: She is headed to her fourth Slam title match and is the only woman to beat each Williams sister at that stage, defeating Serena at the French Open in 2016 and Venus at Wimbledon in 2017.
“Doesn’t guarantee anything,” said Muguruza, whose shaky results over time dropped her out of the top 30 in the rankings, so she is unseeded at a major for the first time in a half-dozen years.
“At the end, the racket has to speak out there. Doesn’t matter how many Grand Slams you have,” said Muguruza, who beat another two-time major champ, Simona Halep, in the semifinals 7-6 (10-8), 7-5. “It’s a tennis match. Even if you have 15 Grand Slams, you go out there and you have somebody that can beat you.”