Attention seeker sends tennis world wild
Sofia Kenin loves attention and she's going to enjoy a whole lot more of it after winning her maiden grand slam title.
Last night the 21-year-old became the youngest woman since Maria Sharapova in 2008 to win the Australian Open, producing a stunning fightback after losing the first set to defeat Garbine Muguruza 4-6 6-2 6-2.
Relatively unknown to casual tennis fans before the year's first major, Kenin has cracked the top 10 rankings for the first time in her career and put the world on notice.
Reflecting on the adoration sent her way after beating Aussie Ash Barty in the semi-finals, Kenin said "I love this attention" and the tennis community has been quick to shower her with more praise in the wake of her incredible triumph at Melbourne Park.
RUSSIAN CONNECTION BREEDS SUCCESS
A photo of Kenin as a child hugging Russian icon Anna Kournikova has been doing the rounds recently on social media and the young gun has followed the former tennis star in more ways than one.
Like Kournikova, Kenin was born in Moscow, before her family moved to America. Kournikova won two Australian Open doubles titles and now Kenin has also brought back some silverware from Down Under.
It was also fitting Kenin became the youngest winner in Melbourne since Sharapova 12 years ago, because tennis's newest champion credits her Russian influence with dragging her to the top of the tree.
Asked about Sharapova and Kournikova and about her Russian influence, Kenin said her upbringing and family background has certainly played a role in her development into one of the world's best players.
"Yes, I definitely think it helped me," Kenin said. "I've looked up to Maria Sharapova, Anna Kournikova. I followed their matches when I was little.
"I feel like I got the feisty (attitude from them). I saw what it's like.
"She won a grand slam at 17, Maria, which I remember watching on TV.
"I have part of Russian stuff inside me, fight and fierce that I have. Trying just to be confident, do what I do best.
"I think there is something there (in Russians). The root. The root is very tough. Tough and bitter. What is around it is a decoration, but there is something inside."
Kenin's story is not unlike Sharapova's. With barely $400 in his pocket, Kenin's father-turned-coach Alexander fled the Soviet Union with his wife Svetlana and studied English by day drove a cab at night in the hope of giving his family a better life.
Years later and Alexander's preciously talented daughter is now a grand slam champion, world No. 7 and the youngest American to crack the top 10 since the great Serena Williams in 1999.
'PHENOMENAL': TENNIS WORLD REACTS
Along with that adorable photo of Kournikova, other titbits from Kenin's childhood have gone viral during her two-week charge at Melbourne Park.
Images of her as a little girl with 2011 Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters and a video where she explains how she could return Andy Roddick's blistering serve have spread across the internet and those two legends were among many past and present players in the tennis world to congratulate Kenin on her grand slam breakthrough.
congrats @SofiaKenin on your first grand slam title 🏆 - you’ve shown what’s possible with focus, hard work and determination! 💪❤️— Kim Clijsters (@Clijsterskim) February 1, 2020
Huge congratulations to @SofiaKenin and her dad for this amazing achievement 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼— Elina Svitolina (@ElinaSvitolina) February 1, 2020
Tennis icon Billie Jean King tweeted: "Congratulations to @SofiaKenin on winning her first grand slam title at the @AustralianOpen. The future of tennis is so bright!"
During ESPN's broadcast, former world No. 1 Chrissie Evert said: "She has been under-valued and she has been over-shadowed. She is not a flash in the pan. This young lady is going to be around for a long, long time."
DAD RIDES AN EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER
Kenin's mum gets too nervous to watch her daughter, so relied on a phone call from the newly minted champ to hear how her match went.
"I called her right after the match just to tell her that everything's fine, I won, she can just relax now," Kenin said after her memorable win.
"She's been really stressed at home, very superstitious. She's just really happy. I told her I'm not going to be able to talk to you for hours, but at least you know that I won. I'm coming home, you can give me the biggest hug of your life.
"My mum cannot watch me. I can see she's still nervous. She doesn't like watching. It's fine."
Kenin's dad and coach Alexander was in the stands, but you get the feeling watching his daughter play isn't good for his nerves either.
Roger Federer's wife Mirka is famous for riding every point her husband plays in a nailbiter but Alexander gave her a run for her money, displaying a range of emotions as he too struggled at times to watch the on-court action.
Kenin burst into laughter when shown the best of her old man's emotional rollercoaster during her post-match TV interview with Channel 9.
"He was so nervous but he was playing with me every point," she said. "I kind of got a bit intense, as you can see.
"I'm just so grateful for my dad.
"I love this moment with my dad. I'm so happy. Love you dad - we worked so hard and I love you so much."
GRAND SLAM WIN WAS DESTINY IN THE MAKING
As a child prodigy earmarked for greatness since she was five, it's no surprise Kenin felt destined to win the Australian Open before a ball was even hit at Melbourne Park.
"At home I was envisioning each round, how I would play and how it would be emotional and everything," Kenin said after realising a lifelong dream.
"My dream has officially come true. I cannot even describe this feeling. It is so emotional." Daring and defiant, Kenin battled back from a set down, then from 0-40 in the fifth game of the deciding set to deny the resurgent Muguruza a third major but first since Wimbledon in 2017.
"I have worked on mental toughness and I am a fighter and not going to give up. I am so proud of myself these last two weeks, such an incredible journey and I will forever cherish this," she said.
"I feel like toughness was a huge part of my success here. I handled it really well, and this is just beyond incredible right now. I have no words.
"This was a great moment for us (her family). We were in a rough patch. I had to work my way up and not let things stop me.
"I had a goal and dream and I was ready to do it, and these last two weeks I took each match one step at a time and not let emotions get the better of me."
Unseeded at a slam for the first time in six years, Muguruza was one set away from lifting the trophy after dominating early on.
But the Spaniard was undone by eight double-faults, including cruelly her last on match point to hand Kenin victory after two hours and three minutes.
The 26-year-old's consolation, as well as a cheque for $2.065 million, will be a rise from No. 32 to 16th in the rankings on Monday.
For Kenin, the spoils - the $4.12 million winner's purse and the coveted Daphne Akhurst Trophy.
"I was overlooked for some time, but this was a different experience, different attention," said Kenin, who will leapfrog Williams and Madison Keys to become the new US No. 1 following her breakthrough.
"I tried to calm down and not focus on the interest to what I wanted to do. I wanted to win this trophy and I was ready to leave everything out there."