French Open: Sofia Kenin lastly romancing clay

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“I usually don’t play really good on clay. In the past, in juniors, I really hated the clay,” Sofia Kenin mentioned last week in regards to the floor that will make her really feel “choked”.

Since 2017, when she turned a top-200 player on this planet, until the beginning of the French Open, Kenin has a 6-13 win-loss record in WTA tournaments performed on clay, with eight opening-round defeats in 11 WTA clay court docket tournaments during the last three years. So determined was Kenin to search out her toes on clay that she entered into an ITF (a rung below the WTA stage) clay court docket event in Alabama in April 2018 regardless of being ranked 87 on this planet back then. Even there, she crashed out within the quarter-finals.

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Who wouldn’t she hate the grime?

Maybe clay simply wasn’t her factor. Maybe, this 21-year-old who gained the Australian Open earlier this yr was meant to excel just on exhausting 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 just a few weeks in the past within the first round of the Italian Open in Rome.

What’s modified with the Kenin-clay relationship? Kenin factors back to the 2019 French Open where she exited from the Round of 16. In the earlier match, she defeated compatriot Serena Williams in straight units. Though she misplaced the subsequent match, profitable towards Williams made her understand that she might play on clay in spite of everything. She discovered just a few issues that she might tweak – the deft touches to her solidity from the baseline, particularly off her backhand. She started understanding tips on how to shift, and slide, higher on the court docket. All of that was in reveal in her 6-4, 7-5 semi-final victory towards Petra Kvitova, the similar player who thrashed her 6-1, 6-Four within the 2019 Madrid Open first round on clay.

On Thursday, Kenin threw Kvitova off her energy game through the use of the angles with some sensible 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 huge leftie serves out extensive.

“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 last time Kenin and Swiatek met on clay was as juniors on the 2016 French Open, where a 15-year-old Swiatek beat Kenin 6-4, 7-5 within the third round. But as Kenin mentioned, each are completely different players now.

That actually stands for Swiatek, who has defied age and maturity on this event by dropping simply 23 games and nil units whereas marching into her first Grand Slam finishing. 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?

[Attribution HT.]

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