The 21-year-old Sofia Kenin is in the top-5 for the first time this week, winning the Australian Open title and suddenly becoming the one to watch. The American is yet to find the way how to deal with that pressure, though, suffering early losses in both Dubai and Doha to dangerous young rivals and spoiling the magic produced in Melbourne a little bit.
Elena Rybakina took her down in Dubai and it was another hard-hitting Eastern European rising star Dayana Yastremska who overpowered Kenin in Doha, scoring a 6-3, 7-6 triumph in an hour and 35 minutes. They split wins at Wimbledon and Toronto last year and it was the Ukrainian who had the advantage this time, blasting 13 aces and fending off four out of six break chances to keep the pressure on Sofia.
The American lost 46% of the points in her games, getting broken three times and missing an opportunity to prolong the encounter after losing that second set tie break. Serving at 1-1, Dayana blasted two service winners to get out of jail and avoid an early setback, earning a break at love in the next game with a return winner to move 3-1 in front.
Yastremska confirmed the break with an ace that sent her 4-1 up, producing another strong serve to stay in front in game seven and closing the opener with another unreturned serve at 5-3, delivering rock-solid tennis to move in front after just over 30 minutes.
Sofia started to hit better in set number two, earning a break in game two and forging a 3-0 advantage with a service winner that kept her safe at the moment. Dayana held at 15 after another quick point to reduce the deficit, pulling the break back with a return winner and leveling the score at 3-3 with a backhand down the line winner, becoming a favorite in the second part of the set.
With the momentum on her side, Yastremska packed another break in game seven to move in front, rattling off four straight games and having the finish line within her sight. Serving for the win at 5-4, Dayana hit a double fault to give serve away and keep Kenin alive, with both players serving well in games 11 and 12 to reach a tie break where the pressure was on the American.
Staying composed and aggressive, Dayana forced an error from Sofia to move 4-1 in front, creating four match points at 6-2 and seizing the third to advance into the third round where she plays against the Australian Open finalist Garbine Muguruza.