Defending champion Kenin bows out of Australia Open

Melbourne, Australia—A crestfallen Sofia Kenin said she was suffocated by the pressure of defending her maiden Grand Slam title as the world number four exited the Australian Open in tears Thursday.

Sofia Kenin of the US hits a return against Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi during their women’s singles match on day four of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 11, 2021. AFP

The 22-year-old American has struggled to handle expectations in Melbourne and was no match for Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, who won 6-3, 6-2 in 64 minutes in the second round.

Kenin was just the third Australian Open defending champion not to reach the third round since 1970, and the earliest to crash out since Jennifer Capriati fell in the first round in 2003.

She headlines a slew of upsets in the women’s draw, which has also lost eighth seed Bianca Andreescu and ninth seed Petra Kvitova in the first week.

Kenin’s return to the scene of her breakthrough Grand Slam title, when she beat Garbine Muguruza in the final, proved tough after she lost to the Spaniard at last week’s Yarra Valley Classic.

She later declared she was troubled by a left groin injury, which she said might have been linked to her mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine in Australia.

Moscow-born Kenin has cut an emotional figure and also admitted to playing in tears throughout her first-round clash with Australian Maddison Inglis.  

“I know I couldn’t really handle the pressure,” said an emotional and red-eyed Kenin, who wiped away tears during her press conference.

“I mean, obviously I haven’t experienced that. I obviously felt like I’m not there 100 percent physically, mentally, my game. Everything just feels real off. It’s not good.”

Kenin, who had 22 unforced errors and offered little resistance against Kanepi, backed up her first Slam title with a runner-up finish at the French Open, but fell apart once she arrived in Australia.

“I did put pressure on myself there (Roland Garros), but not as much as here,” she said. 

“I feel like everyone was always asking me, ‘Do you see yourself getting there and winning again?’

“The Australia trip, I feel like that was something that I had my eye on. I knew I was going to have pressure.  

“I knew I was going to have emotions, nerves, everything all together. I felt really nervous. I haven’t felt my game for I don’t know how long. 

“It’s obviously tough. The Aussie swing definitely got me.”

Kanepi, however, has been in form, finishing runner-up in the warm-up Gippsland Trophy, and plays 28th seed Donna Vekic of Croatia next.

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