The first edition of the WTA 500 event in Abu Dhabi takes place at Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre in the next eight days. The young American Sofia Kenin is among the title favorites, seeking a positive start and momentum ahead of Melbourne.
Sofia was the best player on the Tour in 2020, winning the first Major title at the Australian Open and playing in another final at Roland Garros, losing it to Iga Swiatek in straight sets. Kenin will try to ease the pressure ahead of the Melbourne trip, hoping to repeat her performance from a year ago and defend the crown.
Last January, Sofia trained near Novak Djokovic, who gave her pieces of advice ahead of the title clash against Garbine Muguruza. The American defeated the Spaniard 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 to embrace tennis glory, playing on a high level in sets two and three to leave the more experienced rival behind!
Sofia became the youngest Australian Open champion since Maria Sharapova in 2008, conquering Melbourne at only her third visit down under. The American recovered her game in set number two and survived three break chances at 2-2 in the decider with brave hitting.
Wasting a 40-0 advantage on the return for the second time in the match, Garbine had to remain calm and make a solid hold in the next game, netting a backhand to keep Sofia in at deuce. The Spaniard sprayed a backhand error to offer a break chance to the American and gifted a serve away after a double fault to find herself 4-2 down!
Sofia Kenin will try to defend the Australian Open title.
Firing from all cylinders, Kenin held in game seven with a service winner and moved a game away from her maiden Major title. Serving at 2-5, Muguruza hit another double fault to suffer a break and allow the rival to lift the trophy.
"I think I'm a top player; I have proven that, and I feel that extra pressure that comes from outside. My expectations have grown, and I expect more from myself at Majors and other most significant tournaments. I had a great 2020 in terms of tennis results, and I need to try keeping that momentum going.
I'm hoping to play a couple of matches in Abu Dhabi and shape my game. I made a last-minute decision to enter the draw and compete here. The Australian Open will bring pressure, as I'm the defending champion. I even felt it at Roland Garros, but not as much as in Australia.
Those two tournaments will be the key to my 2021 season, and I'm determined to leave the pressure away and perform well at both. I can talk to Novak Djokovic; I think that can be helpful. He gave me great advice before the last year's final.
We were practicing next to each other, and he came up to me and was nice. He told me some things before the final, which was special because I was crazy nervous," Sofia Kenin said.