In an all-American clash in the Camellia Group of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy, Sofia Kenin and Alison Riske met for the first time in their careers and it was Kenin who came through, 6-4 6-4.
It was just a really tough match, but I just tried to put it behind me. I just feel like I knew the way she was playing Sofia Kenin
The match kicked off play in the last of the group’s with Azalea, Orchid and Rose already well under way.
Kenin never lost her serve, or even faced a break point, over the course of one hour and 14 minutes, scoring a love break of Riske’s serve in each set to decide the result.
The 20-year-old broke her elder compatriot in the 5th game of the opener, and did the same in the 3rd game of the second set to score victory and head the Camellia Group.
Kenin dropped just 12 points in 10 service games overall, and won 84 percent of the points played behind her first serve.
“I just feel like I played really well, I served well,” Kenin said after the match. “Ali is a tough player, she’s had a really good year and it wasn’t easy for me to play her, we’re really good friends and she’s really nice.”
“It was just a really tough match, but I just tried to put it behind me. I just feel like I knew the way she was playing.
“I practiced with her a few times, and I used what did I wrong during practice to improve during my match. I’m really happy with the performance.”
With Kenin now leading the pack in the Camellia group, the American duo will next face Czech Karolina Muchova in each of their respective matches to determine who will advance out into the knockout rounds.
“I’m really honoured to be here,” Kenin continued. “Actually, in the middle of the year I didn’t even know about this tournament, so then my dad’s like, ‘Oh, you know, if you’re going to be Top 20 or something then you’ll be able to play Zhuhai’.
“And I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, why did you tell me that, more pressure on me,'” Kenin added.
“I think it’s a really good experience, I’m really happy to be here and it’s an honour.
“It’s a lot of top players, everyone’s really good here and everyone’s going to fight for their position.”
On her service performance, Kenin reflected: “I didn’t serve this well in practice.
“I felt like I adjusted to her game tactically, what she does, how she likes to serve, where, and I think I did a good job covering it.
“Of course, she served aces, because she has really good serves, but I feel like I just somehow just adjusted to her game.
“It wasn’t like in practice, in practice I usually am like not really stable when I play her, so I’m really happy to play more stable today. It’s good.”
Meanwhile, Riske’s 2019 scrapbook is bursting at the seams, reaching her first major quarter-final on her favourite surface at Wimbledon, making the biggest final of her career at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, saving match points to defeat Kiki Bertens to win the Libema Open in s’Hertogenbosch, and making her Top 20 debut at the end of the regular season.
All while squeezing in the time to get married to long-time boyfriend Stephen Amritraj over the summer.
The 29-year-old will look to her next match to progress further, with one significant breakthrough that cannot be captured on paper.
“It’s little things off court that I feel like it’s been a change as a human, not just as a tennis player, that has really helped me to get better results,” she told WTA Insider.
She admitted that she suffers from anxiety both on and off the court but is coming to terms with it.
“It’s more just being able to calm myself and speak to myself in moments that would before be very anxiety-ridden for me. Those things can’t affect how I go out and compete on the tennis court.
“The players at the very top are just are able to get over it. They’re more forgiving. It’s really exciting for me to finally see it all unfold and to really grasp what I feel like is transforming.”
Riske defeated Muchova in their only meeting to date, at ’S-Hertogenbosch this year, but it was tight, 6-7(4) 6-3 6-2.
The American will be looking to overcome the Czech more economically in her next match.