NEW YORK—Sofia Kenin can breathe a sigh of relief. On Monday, the No. 20 seed won an all-American battle over former US Open semifinalist CoCo Vandeweghe on Grandstand, reaching the second round after a 7-6 (4), 6-3 battle.
"I feel like I played really well. She’s a really tough player. I’m really glad she’s back," the 20-year-old said. "She’s a Top-10 player for sure. It was kind of nerve wracking at times."
Vandeweghe could have greatly benefited from a gentler draw, but was instead facing a red-hot compatriot that just reached her first Premier semifinal, in Toronto, followed by her second, in Cincinnati. While both lay claim to two WTA titles, Kenin won Hobart and Mallorca earlier this season, while Vandeweghe last raised a singles trophy in 2016.
A fan favorite in New York, Vandeweghe reached the US Open semifinals in 2017 and won the doubles crown last year. But Kenin was the outright favorite. She's entering the US Open on a career-high ranking, having recently scored wins over Elina Svitolina (twice), Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty. She's got in enough match play to already have 35 wins, and came in to the US Open on an 8-2 run.
"I’m really happy to the the No. 20 seed. I’ve improved a lot over the year and compared to last year," Kenin said. "I just want to try to keep the momentum going."
Vandeweghe, meanwhile, continues the hunt for improved health and more match play. Coming into the tournament, she'd played just four tour-level matches since returning in San Jose—winning only one, a straight-set encounter over Marie Bouzkova (who would go on a tear in Toronto).
To her credit, the 27-year-old stayed with Kenin, and though she trailed for the entire match, she had her chances in the first-set tiebreaker. Kenin had all the match confidence in the world, yet her nerves betrayed her at times—while Vandeweghe's lack of match confidence showed up at the worst moments. She also appeared to re-injure her foot, to the concern of coach Pat Cash, and would rack up 50 unforced errors, double Kenin's total.
“A win is a win, I’ll take it, but I was pretty nervous going into the match,” Kenin said. “I knew she was going to go out there firing serves and playing big. I’m happy that I could win it.“
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Yet in the second set, Vandeweghe remained uncharacteristically calm, and kept searching for her rhythm, putting together some flawless shot combinations. Kenin was still too relentless, with her trademark fight and a few "Davai's!" she kept more balls in the court, and mixed up play with a two-fisted compact slice.
Down 4-3, something worse than losing the next two games happened: Vandeweghe went down, re-injuring the same right ankle that kept her out of the game for nine months. After a medical timeout, play resumed, and though she put up a fight, her flow was off and with a wild serve-and-volley on match point, the win was safely in Kenin's hands.
Kenin moves on to Wednesday, while Vandeweghe will hope to recover for doubles with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.