Sofia Kenin was the best female tennis player on the planet two years ago. Now, she has just registered her first victory in eight months.
The 23-year-old beat Dalayna Hewitt in straight sets to reach the second round of the WTA event in Cleveland, ending a miserable run of defeats that dates back to January at the Adelaide International.
Kenin’s tumultuous 18 months have seen her struggle with injuries and her own self-confidence –– even admitting that she has been unable to deal with the weight of expectation on her shoulders.
The player who once appeared destined to become world number one is now struggling to register a solitary victory and her spot on the WTA Tour is seemingly in jeopardy.
Back in 2020, Kenin stormed to victory at the Australian Open, made the final at Roland-Garros and was named the WTA Player of the Year.
By the age of 22, the US star had five WTA titles and remains the youngest American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Serena Williams.
Considered a child prodigy, the Russian-born star always appeared destined for stardom and was originally spotted by Rick Macci –– the former coach of Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters.
Yet, despite reaching as high as fourth in the world, the 23-year-old has been plagued with problems on and off the court of late.
GiveMeSport Women looks at what’s happened to the young prodigy and whether she can return to the top of women’s tennis.
What’s happened to Kenin?
Having enjoyed a stunning 2020 season, all eyes were on Kenin at the 2021 Australian Open as she sought to defend her title.
Yet, the American lost in the second round to Kaia Kanepi and stated afterwards that she “couldn’t really handle” the pressure.
“I felt like I was not there, my head was not there,” she stressed at the time.
“I felt like everyone was asking me: Would you like to win again? Do you see yourself out there winning again? Obviously yes. But the way I played today, no.”
Shortly after this, Kenin underwent surgery for appendicitis. She returned in time for the French Open and made the last 16, before sustaining a foot injury which ruled her out of the Olympics.
To compound her misfortune, Kenin then missed the US Open after testing positive for Covid-19 and ended her season soon after.
This year, after sustaining another injury, the 23-year-old began to plummet down the rankings.
Having missed the French Open and Wimbledon, Kenin is currently ranked 426th in the world and is having to rely predominantly on wildcards to play tournaments right now.
This troubling period has been exacerbated by her off-court problems.
Kenin started dating her coach Max Wenders last August but the two broke up soon after.
Moreover, last January she was dropped from her management agency Top Five and her contract with FILA was not renewed at the end of 2021.
Can she return to form?
Kenin’s slump in form is similar in many ways to Eugenie Bouchard, who reached the Wimbledon final back in 2014, but struggled thereafter.
While it’s true that Kenin is a shadow of the player who won the Australian Open, her injury problems have rendered her unable to build any rhythm and forced her to adapt her game.
The key for the US star is to try and wrestle back some momentum and following up her victory in Cleveland may do wonders for her confidence.
Kenin faces fifth seed Irina-Camelia Begu on Tuesday evening for a spot in the quarter-finals.
There is a long way to go for the American, but her talent is undeniable and she could still have many years ahead.