Dubai: Top seed and World No. 4 Sofia Kenin has shrugged off the pressure heading into the opening quarter of the WTA Tour with this week’s inaugural Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open played at the Zayed Sports City International Tennis Centre.
Kenin’s championship run at the 2020 Australian Open was highlighted by a victory over home favourite and world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in an engrossing final last year. Before that title, the 22-year-old American’s best result at a Grand Slam tournament had been a fourth round appearance at the 2019 French Open, where she had defeated her idol, Serena Williams.
“I definitely feel I am a top player and I have proven it over a period of time. Of course, there is always the pressure heading into any tournament even this one. But for the moment, I want to have a good run at every tournament I participate and try and have a good season like last year. The idea is to keep this momentum going,” Kenin told media during the customary pre-tournament meeting, on Tuesday.
“Of course, I feel a lot of pressure on myself going into a Grand Slam as the defending champion. But, I also think I can handle the pressure of being there. I am happy with the way I handled the pressure in the final and what was happening on the court,” she recounted.
Kenin became the youngest American to win a women’s singles Grand Slam since Serena Williams in 2002. She proved her performance wasn’t a fluke when she advanced to the final of the 2020 French Open where she lost in straight sets to Poland’s Iga Swiatek.
“I have always been hard on myself. I hated losing matches even when I was little. This one [Australian Open] is going to be different as I head into the event as the defending champion and everyone who plays me will want to be at their best. That is going to be a lot of pressure and I will need to cope with that. At the end of everything, I will still try and do the best I can,” she promised.
Kenin leads four of the world’s top-10 players at the first WTA tournament of the 2021 season in Abu Dhabi this week.
The WTA 500 event, which runs from January 5-13 also features World No. 5 Elina Svitolina, former World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova and Aryna Sabalenka, winner of the last two WTA titles of the 2020 season. Joining that quartet of top-10 players are former Roland Garros champions Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko and Svetlana Kuznetsova, among others.
“The preparations have been pretty simple and a lot of it was practicing and getting ready for the 2021 season. We can say it was a longer preseason, where fitness was the most important element for me,” Kenin narrated.
“This tournament is a warm-up event [for the Australian Open] and it is good to have a few practice matches before heading to Melbourne. It was a last-minute decision, and may be it was just to get out of the house as well,” she added.
Heading into Abu Dhabi, Kenin did a lot of fitness along with her hitting partner and a few practice matches as well. “So game-wise things are pretty good for me at the moment. So far, so good for me,” she mused.
“The conditions are different this year, and it is what it is and definitely not the most ideal situation. But all the same, I am just happy to travel and be here. Maybe the quarantine rules are quite harsh, but then it is for everyone and we need to follow these,” Kenin added.
The Abu Dhabi tournament will also see a few of the game’s rising stars including Coco Gauff, Elena Rybakina, Elise Mertens and Marketa Vondrousova. The 2020 Roland Garros semi-finalist, Nadia Podoroska and two-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Ons Jabeur are also in the field along with World No. 12 Belinda Bencic and World No. 22 Maria Sakkari.
As a pair, Mertens and Sabalenka head the doubles field alongside the Czech partnership of Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova.
The main draw play is scheduled to kick off on Wednesday [January 6] while both the singles and doubles finals will be played next Wednesday.