Sofia Kenin: From Child Prodigy to Gram Slam Winner
Sofia Kenin dreamed of becoming a tennis champion at a very young age. She had found her calling at only 3.5-years-old in the driveway. “I wasn’t into any other toys. I always liked to play with balls and a racket. So my dad said, ‘Let’s go try it and play.’” Her father knew she had talent and arranged training sessions for her with veteran coach, Rick Macci, at the age of five. Her father, a Russian immigrant, was fascinated with the sport of tennis and has always been her primary coach. Kenin went from child prodigy to Grand Slam winner, but her journey wasn’t always easy.
In 1987, Kenin’s parents left Russia and migrated to the United States, landing in New York. Just before Kenin was born, they went back to Moscow so that other family members could help raise her. Sofia prefers to go by the name “Sonya” and was born on November 14, 1998. A few months later, with little money, her parents sacrificed everything to give her the American Dream, moving to Pembroke Pines, Florida. “When we just got to the country, that was very, very, very, very tough. I had to work at night,
go to school in the morning, and to drive in New York without speaking English,” her father stated.
Macci, a seven-time USPTA national coach of the year, trained Kenin from the ages of 5-12. He has trained five number one ranked players—Andy Roddick, Jennifer Capriati, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams. Over the seven years he coached Kenin, he noticed her unique abilities. He remarked, “Back then [when Kenin was five], I came right out and said Sofia was the scariest little creature I’d ever seen.”
When Kenin took the court, her unique talent and determination caught the attention of many. Many were calling her a prodigy and she was slated to become a tennis superstar. Kenin had big goals for herself: to become a champion and be number one in the world, and Macci knew her day would come. After winning the prestigious Orange Bowl junior title in 2014 in Plantation, she reached number two in the world at the age of 16. She finished runner-up at the 2015 US Open girls’ singles event the following year. She was a Junior U.S. Open finalist in 2015 and won the USTA 18s title.
At 5 feet 7 inches and 125 pounds, Kenin isn’t one of the tour’s biggest players, but Macci said she has had many other strengths since she was a kid. “She wasn’t going to be the biggest, strongest player on the pro tour,” he said. “When she was about 7, her thirst for competition was like nobody else I ever had. When your mind is all about the competition, you handle pressure better.”
In 2017, Kenin played in her third US Open, but her mind was clouded as she was debating if she would go to college or go straight to professional tennis. She was very conflicted but said that the US Open steered her. Kenin survived the first and second rounds, and she advanced to the third round where she played Maria Sharapova. Although Kenin lost that match to Sharapova, she said her performance helped her make the decision to go professional.
After that decision, Kenin took off. By 21-years-old, Kenin was named the WTA Most Improved Player of the Year in 2019, defeating Serena Williams at the French Open in that same year. She also won two WTA doubles titles and 200 singles match titles.
In 2020, she became the champion she always dreamed of, winning the Australian Open, defeating the number one ranked player in the world, Ashleigh Barty, and becoming the youngest American to win a Grand Slam women’s singles title since Serena Williams in 2002.
It has been 16 years since Kenin was first recognized as a tennis prodigy. Her goals are the same – to be a champion, which she has achieved, and to be the number one player in the world. As of February 24, 2020, Kenin is ranked number five in the world and shows no signs of slowing down.