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No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin hardly noticed at U.S. Open despite Australian Open title

Sofia Kenin returns a shot to Leylah Fernandez

Sofia Kenin returns a shot to Leylah Fernandez during the second round of the U.S. Open on Thursday in Flushing Meadows. Credit: AP/Seth Wenig

    For all the hype that surrounds Serena Williams going for her 24th Grand Slam title, for all the excitement that surrounds the prodigal  America teen Coco Gauff, who was ousted in the first round of the U.S. Open, there is a quiet confidence in Sofia Kenin, who as a 21-year-old American has risen to the upper echelon of the game and done so under the radar.

  Considering that she is the only Grand Slam winner this year, considering she is the No.-4 ranked player in the world and the No. 2 seed at the Open, she would have to be considered a favorite for the title if not quite the favorite media darling.

    Kenin maybe not so surprisingly won the Australian Open in January, the only Slam completed so far this year after the French Open was postponed and Wimbledon was canceled. Kenin won three WTA singles finals in 2019 and then beat Garbine Muguruza in the final in Melbourne.  She also defeated world No. 1 and hometown favorite Ashleigh Barty along the way.

    So after a solid 6-4, 6-3 victory over Leylah Fernandez in the second round at Ashe Stadium on Thursday, Kenin was asked if she felt underserved.    

   “Yeah, I definitely sometimes did feel I was overlooked, I wasn't really taken serious,”  Kenin said. “Yeah, I just didn't want to focus on that. Obviously I wasn't focused on that. I'm there to play for myself. My dad is with me by my side.”

  Alex Kenin has been her lifelong coach and moved the family from Russia to the U.S. before Kenin turned a year old. She credits her father’s faith in her as the driving force, and clearly it’s been working.

    “Winning Aussie definitely really helped with my confidence, changed, like, my image drastically,” Kenin said. “After that I feel like people know me and respect me. I obviously did it for myself. Of course it's always nice to get back at the people I guess who didn't really believe in you or treat you fair, so…”

  The women’s field is wide open in the absence of six of the world’s top 10 players who chose not to travel during the pandemic. It’s led to some interesting results.

   Amanda Anisimova  rallied past fellow American teenager Katrina Scott, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. The 19-year-old Anisimova was a surprise semifinalist at the French Open last year. Scott, 16, is ranked 637th and got a late wild card into her first Grand Slam. She was coming off her first tour-level victory in the opening round.

   “I can't believe this is U.S. Open, where is everybody?” said Anisimova, the 2017 Open junior champion who defeated Gauff in the final with a couple of hundred fans in in the stands. “It's definitely, like, a huge bummer, I'm not going to lie, pretend like it's not, because it is. At the end of the day here it's all about winning. That's the only thing that matters at this point. But it is really upsetting.”

   Tsvetana Pironkova upset No. 10 seed Garbine Muguruza, 7-5, 6-3, in her first tournament since Wimbledon in 2017. The Bulgarian took three years off after becoming a mother. This is her 12th Open but first since 2016. The Bulgarian will turn 33 on Sept. 13, the final day of this Open.

   “It's just my first tournament back. Obviously there's a lot of challenges, but they are priorities in the first place,” Pironkova said. “That would always be my son and my family and their health and happiness. I would never make a compromise with that.”

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