Kenin slides into her second slam final of the year

Sofia Kenin puts an end to Kvitova’s hopes in Paris, booking a showdown with Swiatek for the title

Sofia Kenin, Roland Garros 2020, semi-final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Chris Oddo

She just keeps winning. Sofia Kenin is making a habit out of pocketing Grand Slam victories in 2020, and that trend continued through sheer force of will on Thursday at Roland-Garros.

The fourth-seeded American, backed by her signature swagger, made it 16 of her past 17 matches at the majors as she pushed past two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova, 6-4, 7-5, to reach her second Grand Slam final of 2020.

Kenin, who claimed her maiden major title at this year’s Australian Open, will seek to become the first woman to win two major titles in the same year since Angelique Kerber in 2016 when she meets Poland’s Iga Swiatek in the final. 

Possessed with an uncanny ability to deliver her most breathtaking tennis under extreme pressure, Kenin stood tall in the critical moments and refused to wilt against Kvitova in a tense battle of major champions, which lived up to its pre-match billing. 

Despite heavy, windy conditions, 28 winners flew from the mighty Kvitova’s racquet, and the Czech put immense pressure on Kenin from the moment she fell behind a double-break in the opening set until the last ball was struck in anger.

Kenin, however, played frontrunner to perfection and saved break points by the bucket. She reverted to plan B when Kvitova finally did manage to get on level footing in the second set. 

The Paris performance represented a long road back for the Czech. Playing her first Roland-Garros semi-final since 2012, Kvitova did not keep her emotions a secret over the course of the fortnight.

Three years ago she had returned to Roland-Garros following a life-altering attack in her home only five months prior to reclaim her place in the sport. Those raw emotions remained with her as she continued to provide inspiration to fans around the globe.  

They were on display this week, as well, in the form of what she called “happy tears,” after her fourth-round victory over Zhang Shuai of China. 

“Being in a semi-final here, it was a great achievement for me definitely,” Kvitova said in her post-match press conference. “I'm very happy and glad and grateful for that, for sure. I could be at home watching and not even play tennis anymore.”

In a straight-sets result that was far closer than the scoreline indicated, Kenin received high marks for pinging the high notes when she needed to - she saved 10 of 12 break points, including four during a line-in-the-sand sixth game of the second set, which allowed her to consolidate for a 4-2 lead. 

She saved another break point while serving out the match, and later admitted she was down on herself after surrendering the break in the 10th game, which drew Kvitova level in the set.

“I just kept telling myself to keep fighting,” Kenin said. “I obviously expected her to play better. Yes, I went down on myself, but I just told myself to keep playing.”

Kenin in full-flight can be a tough nut to crack, even for a tour de force such as Kvitova. The 21-year-old demonstrates court craft, angles, touch and finesse beyond her years, and she has grown to love the grinding game required on the terre battue. 

On Thursday, she forced Kvitova to go for the lines repeatedly, and scrapped to lengthen rallies to lure the Czech into physical points. It was a strategy which paid dividends and ultimately proved the difference. 

Kenin credits her uptick in form on the clay to her victory over Serena Williams in the third round last year at Roland-Garros. She said from that point on she realised she could make an impact on the surface. 

“I felt underpowered. I couldn't control the points,” she said of her beginnings on clay. “I didn't have great movement on clay. It was a bit of a struggle for me. Definitely after playing against Serena, it gave me a boost in confidence.”

It has been a complete turnaround for Kenin on the surface since. 

“I feel like I'm playing some of my best tennis on clay,” she said. “I'm sliding a lot, moving a lot. I know how to adjust to the surface, so I'm loving the clay.” 

Next Kenin hopes to write one more chapter into the story of her breakthrough 2020 season. She was even asked what would she write if she had to write a story about herself.

"Hopefully might be another piece to write that I won Roland-Garros, which would be really special," she said.