On this week's episode, 20-year-old American Sofia Kenin talks about playing her idol, Maria Sharapova; her coaching situation and more.
On the latest edition of the Beyond the Baseline Podcast, host Jon Wertheim talks with 20-year-old rising American, Sofia Kenin, from Madrid. Now ranked No. 37 on the WTA Tour, Kenin talks with Wertheim about her quick transition from the juniors to the pros; her 2017 U.S. Open third round match against her idol, Maria Sharapova, under the lights on Arthur Ashe; how that match helped her make the decision to turn professional; why she likes having her father as her coach; and much more.
Jon Wertheim: I saw this headline from 2017: “JUNIOR CHAMPION KENIN TO PLAY MARIA SHARAPOVA.” You have made a very smooth and fast transition from the juniors to the Top 40.
Sonya Kenin: I'm happy to make this transition and as you said, playing against Maria, my idol, it was really amazing and it was an experience that I'll never forget. I’m still trying to get up there and climb the rankings. And yeah, just excited what's to come for me.
JW: You're talking about that match at the open against Sharapova two years ago. What's that experience like for you? We have that all the time where players get a big match under the bright lights and they get to play a star on Arthur Ashe and then oftentimes, we don't hear much from them again for a while. With you that wasn't the case. What did you take away from that match with Maria?
SK: The experience. I just saw how if you work hard you're going to play in that amazing stadium, under the lights in New York City. At the best time—night session, last match—I couldn’t ask for anything better. After that match you know I got lucky and I started getting used to playing in front of the crowd. I’ve been practicing, trying, working hard every day and it's proving that I'm able to compete with these girls and I've proven it to myself and the people around me, they can see this. And I'm more of a competitor out there and I guess it's tough to play against me.
JW: How close were you to going to college that night? Had you decided to play pro or were you still thinking about college tennis at that point?
SK: At that point after Maria, for sure I was going to go pro. That really wasn't the question there. I knew that I was going to go professional and I was really happy. And third round at the U.S. Open made the decision much easier. So very happy to have done that.
JW: You talk about your competitiveness, your fight, and if you ask other players about you that's the first thing they say:she's not the biggest player out there but she competes really well. Where do you suppose you got that?
SK: Just character, I guess. I have a little bit Russian inside me and you know usually they're feisty and fighting and they're not going to give up. Speaking of Russian: I've looked up to Maria Sharapova and I've always watched her matches and I've seen how she's fighting and never gives up and I knew that this is perfect and this is what I need. That's how I got it.
JW: Have you talked to her much? I'm looking at your backgrounds, there are some similarities or some overlap. You're giving her a few inches in height. I'm not sure you guys necessarily are looking eye to eye when you're standing at the net but apart from that you guys have a lot in common. Have you spoken to her?
SK: I mean there I just said “good match” and then she said “you played well” and then at the locker room I wished her good luck. And she said, thank you and good luck in your future. That’s the last time we’ve spoken because after that you know we haven't talked.
JW: Tell us about your coaching situation. We've seen your father come out forcourt coaching during matches but I know I know you were with him with Rick Macci for a while. Tell us a bit about your coaching and your influences.
SK: My dad is I mean coach and as you saw he is always coming out on court and coaching me. He’s helped me and he’s always there for me. I'm happy with my coaching, since he is my coach and I think it's working perfectly. We’re finding a balance between a coach or a father-daughter so I think we're doing a really good job with this. And I know he knows exactly what he's talking about and he helps me and he knows me better than anyone. So he would obviously know exactly what somebody how to help me if I know I'm done. He knows the right words to say just to you know get me up and after that I just started playing better. So it is working perfectly.
JW: Sounds like you really you really trust him.
SK: Yeah for sure.
JW: Does he have a tennis background or is it more a situation where he just knows how to motivate you, he knows how to convey a message, he knows sort of what buttons to push?
SK: Just as you said he knows exactly what he's talking about. He knows exactly what to say at the right moments at the right times and it's been helping me. Yeah, just really happy with it. And I think it's just great that we were able to do this together and I think it's really important.