Australian Open champion, Sofia Kenin launches her Dubai campaign on Tuesday when she faces rising Kazakh, Elena Rybakina in a tough opening match.
Kenin vs Rybakina is live from Dubai on Tuesday, 18 February from 7:00pm local time/ 3:00pm GMT
Kenin is playing her first WTA tournament since that sensational triumph in Melbourne, and will attempt to keep up the momentum when she squares off against the in-form Rybakina. While this is her first event on the WTA Tour since her Melbourne triumph, she did feature in the Fed Cup in February, going 1-1 in her singles matches, and partnering Bethanie Mattek-Sands to victory in the deciding doubles tie as the USA scrape past Latvia to secure their spot in the inaugural 12-team Finals in Budapest in April.
Prior to the 2020 Australian Open, the 21-year-old Kenin had never gone beyond the fourth round of a major, but she smashed her previous best Grand Slam record in Melbourne, becoming the youngest women’s singles champion at the year’s first major since Maria Sharapova won the title in 2008.
She did have a kind draw right through to the semi-finals, with Shuai Zhang at No. 35 in the world being the highest ranked player she had to beat to get into the last four, but she adjusted superbly to the sharp rise in the quality of opposition in the latter stages, taking down world No. 1, Ashleigh Barty 7-6 7-5 to reach the championship match. Kenin dropped the opening set against Garbine Muguruza in the final, but she engineered her way back into the contest in excellent fashion, fighting back to complete a fine 4-6 6-2 6-2 victory.
Kenin’s Australian Open triumph came as a big surprise, but she has been shooting up the rankings in the last few years. She first broke into the top-100 and the top-50 in 2018, while she continued her sharp progress in 2019, winning titles in Hobart, Mallorca and Guangzhou, reaching a final in Acapulco, and making marquee semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati. The American rose as high as 12th last season, and finished the year at No. 14.
Kenin did not have the most eye-catching start to the year, going 2-2 between Adelaide and Brisbane in her Australian Open warm-up tournaments, but she exploded into form in Melbourne, going on to claim her first major title. That result also took her into the top-ten for the first time, with the youngster now ranked 7th in the world.
She will look to keep up the momentum in Dubai, where she’s competing for the second straight year. Kenin reached the third round last season- can the Australian Open champion better that performance in 2020? She faces a difficult opener against Elena Rybakina.
What a start to 2020 Rybakina has made. The young Kazakh is an amazing 15-3 on the tour this year, and has contested the final in three of her four tournaments in 2020.
She opened with a runner-up finish in Shenzhen (lost to Ekaterina Alexandrova), after which she won her second career title in Hobart. The 20-year-old was beaten by Petra Kvitova in the third round of the Australian Open, but she was back in the final in her next tour event, finishing second to Kiki Bertens in last week’s St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
Following that St. Petersburg result, the young gun cracked the top-20 for the first time, arriving Dubai at No. 19 in the world. Rybakina was ranked way down at No. 182 at the start of last season, but she shot up the rankings very quickly, initially winning a trio of ITF tournaments in the first quarter of the year, before transitioning to the main tour. She was champion in Bucharest, finalist in Nanchang and semi-finalist in s-Hertogenbosch and Luxembourg, all of which contributed to her year-end ranking of 37th.
Tuesday’s meeting with Kenin is the first between the two youngsters, and Australian Open champion, Kenin must get into her work very quickly if she is to avoid an early exit in her first WTA tournament as a Grand Slam champion. Rybakina arrives the match in great form, and I think the Kazakh has got a fantastic chance of scoring the big win on Tuesday.