WIMBLEDON, England — Sofia Kenin used to be the up-and-coming American, the one who was a Grand Slam champion at age 21, the one who beat a teenage Coco Gauff on the way to that trophy, the one who right afterward broke into the Top 10 in the WTA rankings, then soon made another run to a major final.
After all of that came a series of health issues — a lingering foot injury, a bout with COVID-19, a right ankle problem — and three first-round exits in a row at major tournaments, all of which added up to a slide down the rankings. Coming into Wimbledon, Kenin was ranked 128th, so low she needed to go through three qualifying rounds just to get into the main draw, where she was placed in the bracket against none other than Gauff.
It’s Gauff who is now in the Top 10 at age 19 and seeded No. 7 at the All England Club, who was a Slam runner-up at last year’s French Open, who was a quarterfinalist or better at four of the most recent nine majors. And yet it was Kenin who came out on top in their highlight-filled matchup on a windy, chilly Monday at No. 1 Court, beating Gauff 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.
“I know where I was,” Kenin said, “and where I should be.”
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 3, 2023
She was steadier than Gauff, with far fewer winners but also far fewer unforced errors.
Here’s how Kenin described her mindset: “Don’t get anxious or super excited.”
Kenin also acknowledged afterward that she set out to “pick on her forehand a little bit more,” referring to Gauff’s weaker side.
“I didn’t really put too much pressure on her,” Gauff said. “I felt like she could make a ball on the court (and) didn’t have to be as good — and I wouldn’t do much with it. That’s what happened.”
There were highlights galore, including one sequence each in which one player fell down to the grass, got herself back up and ended up taking the point.
“With three wins under her belt from ‘qualies,’ I knew she was going to be playing with confidence,” Gauff said when asked about whether Kenin could return to the heights she once reached. “I mean, it’s always possible for somebody to get back to that level. She’s still on the younger end of her career. I think with how she played today, it shouldn’t be too long.”
It was at Wimbledon in 2019 that Gauff made her breakthrough and began to establish herself as a household name at age 15.
She became the youngest player to qualify at the All England Club, then beat seven-time major champion Venus Williams in the first round en route to getting all the way to the fourth round before losing to eventual title winner Simona Halep.
Still not yet 20, Gauff is considered one of the rising stars of women’s tennis. That label was applied to Kenin just three years ago.
“She had nothing to lose today. Obviously she won a Grand Slam, but she’s in a tough spot in her career,” Gauff said. “So I knew coming in she would play with a lot of motivation. It was all about how I would play today and how I would take care of my end of the court. I did in certain moments, but obviously not enough.”
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