The 18-year-old Kenin, a junior US Open finalist in 2015, is playing in her third career US Open, and she made her Wimbledon and Roland Garros qualifying debuts earlier this summer.
“I was pretty nervous before the match, but I just told myself to keep fighting, and obviously it helped,” Kenin said. “Today was really important to me, to prove that I'm able to play at this level and I obviously am. So I'm just happy.”
Kenin earned this opportunity the hard way, winning the US Open Wild Card Challenge by taking home her third career International Tennis Federation Pro Circuit crown in Stockton, reaching the semifinals in Sacramento and making the final in Lexington.
“It was really hard. I was competing against Amanda Anisimova and it was a battle,” Kenin said. “To have won it is amazing. Before here I was having really great preparation.”
Anisimova, just 15, lost in the first round of the qualifying event.
On Monday, things didn’t start well for Kenin as Davis raced ahead to a 4-0 lead and held onto it for 5-3. Unperturbed, Kenin dug in for the long haul and battled to a 7-5, 7-5 win. It’s the biggest win of her young career.
“My dad and I made a deal [that] if I win my first round, I get to go to Tiffany's,” Kenin said. “I'm going to take him out tonight in the city and we'll go.”
She’s stocking up on bling this week, as the US Open player gift also included jewelry from Tiffany’s, one of her two favorite stores (the other is Swarovski). For a youngster who has spent most of her career on the ITF Pro Circuit, playing in a Grand Slam main draw is as luxurious as the shops she’s so attracted to.
“It's completely different here. You have everything and they treat you like a princess, basically,” Kenin said. “There, on the pro circuit, you have to work really hard to get here.”
Kenin may be just 18, but her career has been in the works for most of her life. Born in Moscow, she moved to America as a baby, but speaks Russian fluently. By the age of 5, she had a website chronicling her budding tennis career. A slew of reporters flocked her in press on Monday, all having followed her journey since she was a child.
“I saw people have websites so I thought, ‘Why not have it?’” Kenin said. “We just have to update it, though.”
In addition to motivating her with promises of Tiffany’s jewelry, her father, Alexander, is also her coach and support system.
“Everything is all because of my dad. My success and everything, it's because of him,” Kenin said.
She stands a fair shot of going even farther in New York as she takes on qualifier Sachia Vickery next. Vickery, a 22-year-old ranked No. 154, was in Kenin’s shoes four years ago when she won her first US Open main-draw match as an 18-year-old.
“I wasn't mentally read for that big stage,” Vickery said. “Now I'm a little bit more mature. I’ve had more years of experience, so I know how to handle those high-pressure situations a little bit better.”
Kenin and Vickery happen to know each other pretty well, both training in Miramar, Fla.
“We actually live five minutes from each other in Florida,” Vickery said. “We practice almost every single day, so definitely familiar with each other.”
While Vickery took the pro route, Kenin is still undecided, even though she could take home $86,000 for reaching the second round and a staggering $144,000 if she wins on Wednesday.
“I finished high school. I'm not sure what I'm doing yet,” Kenin said. “I haven't decided anything yet.”
One thing is for sure: Kenin could certainly add a lot of pieces to her Tiffany’s collection with that kind of pocket change.
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