“I usually don’t play really good on clay. In the past, in juniors, I really hated the clay,” Sofia Kenin mentioned final week concerning the floor that will make her really feel “choked”.
Since 2017, when she grew to become a high-200 participant on the planet, until the beginning of the French Open, Kenin has a 6-13 win-loss file in WTA tournaments performed on clay, with eight opening-spherical defeats in 11 WTA clay court docket tournaments during the last three years. So determined was Kenin to seek out her ft on clay that she entered into an ITF (a rung beneath the WTA stage) clay court docket event in Alabama in April 2018 regardless of being ranked 87 on the planet again then. Even there, she crashed out within the quarter-finals.
Who wouldn’t she hate the filth?
Maybe clay simply wasn’t her factor. Maybe, this 21-yr-previous who received the Australian Open earlier this yr was meant to excel solely on arduous courts. Not actually.
On Saturday, Kenin will vie for her first title at Roland Garros, and second Major of the yr, towards Polish teen Iga Swiatek. This, after being double bageled (6-0, 6-0) by Victoria Azarenka a number of weeks in the past within the first spherical of the Italian Open in Rome.
What’s modified with the Kenin-clay relationship? Kenin factors again to the 2019 French Open the place she exited from the Round of 16. In the earlier match, she defeated compatriot Serena Williams in straight units. Though she misplaced the following match, successful towards Williams made her notice that she might play on clay in any case. She discovered a number of issues that she might tweak – the deft touches to her solidity from the baseline, particularly off her backhand. She started understanding how you can transfer, and slide, higher on the court docket. All of that was in present in her 6-4, 7-5 semi-remaining victory towards Petra Kvitova, the identical participant who thrashed her 6-1, 6-4 within the 2019 Madrid Open first spherical on clay.
On Thursday, Kenin threw Kvitova off her energy sport by utilizing the angles with some good court docket motion, slicing the ball from time to time to make sure Kvitova didn’t have the tempo to work with. Kenin even delivered the odd dropshot return winner off her backhand as a response to Kvitova’s large leftie serves out large.
“I feel like I’m playing some of my best tennis on clay,” Kenin mentioned. “I’m sliding a lot, moving a lot. I know how to adjust to the surface, so I’m loving the clay.”
The final time Kenin and Swiatek met on clay was as juniors on the 2016 French Open, the place a 15-yr-previous Swiatek beat Kenin 6-4, 7-5 within the third spherical. But as Kenin mentioned, each are completely different gamers now.
That definitely stands for Swiatek, who has defied age and maturity on this event by dropping simply 23 video games and nil units whereas marching into her first Grand Slam remaining. Kenin, in the meantime, has seen 4 of her six matches go the space.
“I remember I lost,” Kenin mentioned of their juniors match. “I don’t remember how I played, but definitely I can say I was not as comfortable on clay as I am now.”
A romance that took its time to develop or love at first sight – which relationship will stand the take a look at of the ultimate?