Eight Wins In A Row For Kenin At Melbourne Park

Sofia Kenin (photo: @AusOpen/Twitter)

WASHINGTON, February 2, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Reigning Australian Open women’s champion Sofia Kenin has less than a week before she begins defense of her first and only Grand Slam title. On Tuesday, as the No. 2 seed in the Yarra Valley Classic warm-up tournament, Kenin advanced safely to the third round after her opponent, Italy’s 76th-ranked Camila Giorgi, retired after the opening set of their second-round match with a left thigh injury. Kenin had won the first set 7-5 before Giorgi stepped down from the competition.

“This obviously is not the way I wanted to win,” Kenin said during her post-match press conference afterward. “I obviously hope she’s going to feel better. It was a good match. … I feel like I played well. It’s a win. I’m going to take it, of course. I felt like my game [was] really good today, even though I was making a lot of unforced errors with my forehand. It was weird, I just felt really good.”

The set was a back-and-forth affair, with Kenin jumping ahead 3-0, then trailing 4-3 after Giorgi rebounded and caused Kenin to make a lot of unforced errors – 16 in all. However, Kenin’s momentum carried her in the later stages, winning the final three games. It was her eighth straight win going back to the beginning of last year’s Australian Open. Next, Kenin will face 64th-ranked fellow American Jessica Pegula, who advanced over No. 230 Mona Barthel of Germany, 6-4, 7-5.

Kenin was asked if it’s any easier handling the emotions, especially after reaching the semifinals at the US Open and the final at Roland Garros. She said: “Yeah, definitely. I feel like with the matches I’ve had, the success I had last year, helps me. But it’s the first time I’m experiencing coming back to a Grand Slam where I have to … where I want to try to defend my title. Of course, there’s nerves.

“Obviously, very nervous, but I’m going to do my best and we’re going to see how it goes.”

Barty wins first match in almost a year

At the top of the Yarra Valley Classic draw, No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-3 win over No. 93 Ana Bogdan of Romania. The Aussie fired 22 winners and faced just one break point during the one hour and 13-minute match played on Margaret Court Arena.

“I had so much fun out here today, and I think I missed you guys so much as well,” said Barty, who had not played a WTA match since losing to Petra Kvitova in the Doha semifinals last February. “This is one of my favorite places to play in the entire world, and for me to be able to come back after 11 or 12 months off now – it’s been a while, but I miss this feeling. I miss coming out here and competing,” she said during her post-match interview on court.

Next, Barty will face No. 16 seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic, who overcame No. 103 Aliona Bolsova of Spain, 6-3, 6-7 (6), 6-2.

Other seeds also advancing included: No. 4 Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic, who outlasted No. 80 Venus Williams of the United States, 7-6 (6), 7-5; No. 6 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who easily beat No. 65 Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium, 6-2, 6-0; No. 11 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, who defeated No. 54 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, 6-0, 6-3; and No. 14 seed Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, who bested No. 110 Greet Minnen of Belgium, 6-3, 6-4.

It’s worth noting that Kvitova’s win over the 40-year-old Williams was her first since 2014.

Kanepi ends Sabalenka winning streak at 15

On a day that saw World No. 3 Naomi Osaka capture much attention by winning her opening match in the Gippsland Trophy – her first tour-level appearance since winning last summer’s US Open title – it was Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, at age 35 the oldest in the tournament draw, who garnered the biggest victory of the day.

The 94th-ranked Kanepi earned her 12th win over a Top 10 player with a 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 triumph over World No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, seeded fourth. She converted six of seven break points during the one hour and 38 minutes of play on Margaret Court Arena. It ended Sabalenka’s lengthy 15-match winning streak dating back to last year, in which the Belarusian won three consecutive WTA tournaments (Ostrava and Linz in 2020 and Abu Dhabi at the start of this year).

“When I play well and aggressive, I think it’s tough for anybody to beat me,” said the six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Kanepi, on court after the match. “I got some rhythm after my first match [against Australia’s Astra Sharma] and today, I found it much better to play.”

Osaka extends winning streak to 12

Meanwhile, the second seed Osaka extended her winning streak to 12 with her 6-2, 6-2 victory over 53rd-ranked Alizé Cornet of France. Afterward, Osaka admitted to reporters that she was “nervous the entire match.

“There were moments where it was less and there were moments where it was more, but I felt like I was really, really nervous just going, like walking onto the court,” she said.

“Even until the very last point, I think I was just thinking – I don’t know, the first match you come back and especially in a Grand Slam environment, it’s definitely very hard.”

Next, Osaka will face No. 371 Katie Boulter of Great Britain, who rallied from a set down to beat No. 14 seed Coco Gauff of the United States, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2. Boulter, 24, was limited to just three WTA main-draw appearances last year after struggling with injuries.

“I remember playing her in Wimbledon one year,” recalled the 23-year-old Osaka. “I don’t remember what year it was, but I do remember think she was a really good player, and then I heard that she got injured and now she’s back.

“I’m looking forward to playing her. It’s really interesting to play players that are around the same age as me because I feel like we all have the same goals and stuff.”

Also advancing were: No. 5 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, who defeated No. 63 Bernarda Pera of the United States, 6-2, 6-3; No. 6 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, who beat No. 104 Kaja Juvan of Slovenia, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1; No. 7 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, who eliminated No. 182 Mayo Hibi of Japan, 6-2, 6-2; No. 12 seed Caroline Garcia of France, who took out No. 115 Timea Babos of Hungary, 6-4, 6-4; and No. 16 seed Laura Siegemund of Germany, who eased past Australian wild card Destanee Aiava, ranked 215th, 6-2, 6-2. No. 15 seed Polona Hercog of Slovenia was upset by No. 71 Daria Kasatkina of Russia, 6-4, 6-3.

Yarra Valley Classic results

Gippsland Trophy results

News & noteworthy: Naomi Osaka

A Naomi Osaka press conference is always a treat for reporters – a festival of quotes and fascinating streams of consciousness from the soft-spoken World No. 3, who is emerging as the international face of the sport.

After her first win of the 2021 season, a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Alizé Cornet of France, Osaka was asked how it felt:

“I mean, for me, it feels really good. I think because I haven’t played a match since the finals of New York, I was definitely really nervous going into it. But I’m really happy with how positive I was throughout the match.

“Actually, I was nervous the entire match. There were moments where it was less and there were moments where it was more, but I felt like I was really, really nervous just going, like walking onto the court. Even until the very last point, I think I was just thinking – I don’t know, the first match you come back and especially in a Grand Slam environment, it’s definitely very hard.”

On the thought of playing Ashleigh Barty in a Grand Slam final, Osaka said: “I just know it’s going to be hard. It would be fun. I know there’s people that I want to play that I know is going to be hard. Like I’d love to play [Bianca] Andreescu in a final.

“I think regardless of what I feel, I feel like the audience would have a lot of fun with that. I would love to play Iga [Swiatek]. It’s just – for me, it would be run to play Barty, but would stress me out. I think I would feel stressed out the day before.”

What they’re saying: Iga Świątek

On Tuesday, Iga Swiatek played in her first match since winning Roland Garros last October. She won 11 of the last 12 games en route to comeback win over her best friend, Kaja Juvan, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1.