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‘Couldn’t handle the pressure’: Kenin looks in the mirror after exit

  • Matt Trollope

One could not help but feel sympathy for Sofia Kenin as she conducted her post-match press conference on Thursday. 

She had just been soundly beaten by Kaia Kanepi, her Australian Open title defence ending in the second round after only 64 minutes. 

MORE: Defending champ Kenin crushed by Kanepi

She had struggled with both her opponent and her own game, and now, she was struggling to stop herself breaking down. 

At one stage, the interview moderator offered her a box of tissues. But she waved them away, composed herself, and forged on, disarmingly honest, as always, in her assessment of her mental state. 

“I was obviously way too nervous,” said the 22-year-old. “I felt like I obviously wasn't there. My head wasn't there. 

“I'm not going to take any credit away from her. She played really well. She came up with some good shots. She obviously had a good plan against me. 

“I had chances. I just couldn't take it. I obviously know why because, like, the nerves big-time got to me. 

“I just couldn't execute my shots.” 

MORE: All the scores from Day 4 at AO 2021

Since unexpectedly winning the Australian Open last year, Kenin did well to maintain a high level as the rest of the 2020 season unfolded. 

She won the WTA Lyon tournament just one month after her AO breakthrough. When tennis resumed after a five-month suspension due to COVID-19, she reached the second week of the US Open, and the final at Roland Garros. 

But ever since she arrived in Melbourne, she was hyper-aware of any pressure – she almost seemed to be predicting it – that can, arguably, accompany a Grand Slam champion. 

Kenin said she felt the pressure, and it was evident in her play

A journalist addressed this point with Kenin: “It's interesting you say everyone is expecting you (to win). There's so many big stars in women's tennis, yet you felt like there was sort of a pressure on you specifically?” 

She did indeed feel that pressure. Strongly. 

“I feel like everyone was always asking me … ‘Do you see yourself getting there and winning again?’ Obviously, I said yes,” she explained. 

“Obviously I haven't experienced that. I know I couldn't really handle the pressure. I'm not obviously used to this, so right now I just got to figure out how to play at that level that I played at. 

“Because like today and those (other earlier) matches (in Melbourne), it just hasn't been there.” 

Kenin did hint that a significant amount of the pressure she felt came from within, as well as external sources. 

It was a state of being far removed from when she was an underdog storming though the draw, free of expectations and with little fanfare until the later rounds, while ranked outside the top 10. 

“This year I put, like, a lot of pressure (on myself),” she admitted. 

“I knew I was going to have pressure. I knew I was going to have, like, emotions, nerves, everything all together. 

“For sure Australia, the Aussie swing, definitely got me.” 

Now free of that burden, it will be interesting to see what the talented American can do at Melbourne Park in 2022.