Melbourne | Kenin ends Jabeur run to make first semi-final
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Sofia Kenin reached her first Grand Slam semi-final after a 6-4 6-4 victory over Ons Jabeur at the Australian Open on Tuesday in the most surprising of the women’s quarter-finals.
It feels really good. I'm super excited for it. I think overall I played really good. I tried to handle the nerves. Obviously nerves coming into this match. I think I did a really good job handling myself. Sofia Kenin
It was a match of contrasting styles between the steady, driven Kenin and Tunisian Jabeur, who possesses a magic box of tricks but does not always know how best to deploy them.
In the end, the American came out on top, and this victory takes her to the verge of the top 10 with potentially more to come.
“I’m super excited,” said 21-year-old Kenin, 21. “It was a tough match.”
Kenin was forced to save 3 break points at 2-3 in the second set in a marathon of a game, and she felt that phase of the match was the key to her victory.
“It was a tough moment,” Kenin explained. “I didn’t know it was 10 minutes [but] it was pretty long, the game.
“After that I got my momentum and started playing better.”
The 21-year-old saved 6 of the 7 break points she faced during the 92-minute tussle, to record her 3rd tour-level victory against Jabeur.
“It feels really good. I’m super excited for it. I think overall I played really good,” Kenin said. “I tried to handle the nerves.
“Obviously nerves coming into this match. I think I did a really good job handling myself.”
The only American to make it through to the women’s quarters out the 22 that started in the main draw, Moscow-born Kenin produced a convincing performance, watched on by Russian ex-world No 1 and Australian Open 2009 runner-up Dinara Safina in her box.
History-making Jabeur, 25, was looking to become the first Arab to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam.
In the first major quarter-final appearance for both players, it was Kenin who used the court best to her advantage, earning a milestone victory after an hour and 32 minutes of play. and improving her record against Jabeur to 4-1.
“[Jabeur is] a really tough player,” said Kenin. “I knew she’s going to come out playing strong.
“She’s had really good matches, good wins. It wasn’t an easy one, it wasn’t an easy battle. All respect to her.”
Kenin was tidier on the day, with 16 unforced errors to Jabeur’s 36, and she also made 55 percent of points off her second serve while claiming nearly two-thirds of Jabeur’s second-service deliveries.
Jabeur was going for the bigger shots, but Kenin was more solid, making smarter choices, and moving the North African around.
The American’s sliced backhand forced errors from Jabeur early in the match, one of which sealed up a love break and an early 3-1 lead for Kenin, but she then double-faulted to give the Tunisian 2 break points at 3-2, who converted at her first chance and pulled back to level terms at 3-3.
Kenin, however, quickly struck again, gritting her way through points and causing errors off the Jabeur forehand to reclaim another break and a 4-3 advantage.
She faced 2 more break points in the following game, but ramped up the aggression on her serves and groundstrokes to blast her way out of danger and reach 5-3.
Jabeur saved 2 set points with powerful play of her own to hold for 5-4, deploying all variety of spin to keep Kenin at bay.
While Jabeur managed to stave off 3 more set points in the next game, Kenin reeled off 3 points of her own in succession to convert her 6th set point.
Jabeur had chances to take command of the second when she collected 3 break points while leading 3-2, but the tenacious Kenin continued to hit her targets throughout extended rallies with regularity, and the American eventually evaded all of those chances to earn a hard-fought hold for 3-3.
After missing those opportunities, Jabeur faltered with errors to give Kenin triple break point in the subsequent game and although the crafty Tunisian erased them, a fourth produced a miscue to give the American the first break of the second set.
That proved to be decisive, and Kenin had little trouble holding serve for the remainder of the affair, wrapping it up with ease by converting her first match point with a strong serve that was returned into the net by her worthy opponent.
Kenin had a sensational 2019, in which she scooped 3 WTA titles and played at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen as an alternate.
“Of course, I’m rising, so I’m trying to somehow keep my game stable, just play with stability, just play each match, one match at a time,” Kenin said.
“Of course, I’m really happy. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am. I’ve done a really hard pre-season. I knew that it’s going to help me and it’s going to pay off. Thank God it’s paying off here.”
Kenin is one victory away from cracking the top 10 for the first time while Jabeur will become the first Arab woman to break into the top 50 when the new rankings are released next week.
Jabeur is looking forward to building on this breakthrough fortnight, knowing there is still plenty of room for improvement.
The Arab No 1 received huge support back home throughout the tournament, and even received a call from Tunisian President Kais Saied before her quarter-final.
“I think I proved that I can be in the quarter-finals in a Grand Slam, even if I have a lot of things to improve probably physically and mentally some stuff, for sure,” Jabeur said.
“But I’m happy that I pushed through a lot of things. I proved to myself that I could do a lot of great things. I’m happy that I played this way.
“I know sometimes I’m hard on myself, but I think I could do better, especially with the moments where it’s kind of tough and stressful.
“I think with more experience, I will be able to handle the pressure better.”
With more history in the making, Kenin faces top seed Ash Barty in the semi-finals.