Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press
Sofia Kenin is one win away from perhaps seizing the mantle as the new face of American women’s tennis.
Kenin advanced past Petra Kvitova in a competitive 6-4, 7-5 semifinals match Thursday at the 2020 French Open, reaching her second Slam final of the 2020 calendar year. The American moves on to play Iga Swiatek, who advanced earlier Thursday in her matchup against Nadia Podoroska.
Kenin took the most of the opportunities given to her by Kvitova, winning four of her five break-point chances. By contrast, Kvitova converted on only two of her 12 attempts and likely feels as if she left a golden opportunity for her third Slam title on the table.
Kenin won the 2020 Australian Open in January as a No. 14 seed, setting the stage for a career-making year. She is already the youngest American women’s player to win a Slam since a 20-year-old Serena Williams, and a win at the French would cap one of the best 21-year-old seasons in recent tennis history. She and Swiatek combine for the youngest Slam final since the 2008 Australian Open between Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic.
Swiatek came out of a half of the bracket that goes down as one of the most unpredictable in French Open history. Thursday’s semifinal featured the world’s 54th- (Swiatek) and 131st-ranked (Podoroska) players. Both got to the semis via a series of jaw-dropping upsets, both their own (Swiatek defeating Simona Halep, Podoroska topping Evina Svitolina and Yulia Putintseva) and several others that cleared their path toward an unlikely matchup.
Swiatek quickly went to work outmatching Podoroska, the first qualifier in history to reach the French Open semis. The 19-year-old overwhelmed Podoroska with excellent return after excellent return, converting five of nine break-point chances and winning nearly as many return points (26) as Podoroska (34) in the entire match.
“I’m kind of surprised, really. I always knew that if I would be in a Grand Slam final, it would be at the French Open,” Swiatek said in her on-court interview after the match. “I wanted to play this match as a first-round match, I didn’t want to think of it as a semi-final, otherwise I would have been too stressed. I just wanted to be aggressive like previous matches. I’m feeling good and like nothing hurts me.”
While her rise to this Slam final is a surprise, it’s not exactly a shock to see Swiatek competing at the highest level. Swiatek is a former Youth Olympic gold medalist who is considered one of the more promising young players in the sport.
That said, she’ll go into her first career Slam final as a historic underdog.
Kenin appears on the precipice of challenging Naomi Osaka for the spot at the top of the mantle, two promising and charismatic young stars who could build a rivalry for the ages. Osaka having to withdraw from the French Open barred a potential head-to-head matchup, but the future of American tennis is looking bright with them at the forefront.