White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.—Sofia Kenin got a chance to face her idol Kim Clijsters in World TeamTennis action earlier this season and it didn't go the way she wanted. Now she's eager for a second chance.
On July 15, New York Empire's Clijsters would beat Kenin 5-3, helping her team top Philadelphia 25-17. Kenin said the experience of facing the four-time Grand Slam champion was different than what she expected.
She'd met Clijsters before, as a five-year-old trailing her at the Miami Open in the now-famous video, and in Dubai for media obligations earlier this year. But she had not seen her across from the net, and never expected to.
"When I found out she was coming back I was super excited," the 21-year-old says. "Of course, I wanted to play her. It's good for us and for Fila. It's a great story. It brings back a lot of memories. There are a lot of things behind it."
Kenin, the highest-ranked female player at No. 4, has been strong for the top-ranked Freedoms. She's 8-3 in singles sets—complete with a win over Venus Williams—and her team is 9-2 on the season. Her loss to Clijsters was early in the season and the Belgian has been sidelined from singles since July 18 with injuries.
"I guess my nerves got the better of me when I played her even though it's not a full match," Kenin said. "It was just a little bit different because I've always looked up to her."
Philadelphia has a rematch with New York on Thursday, but odds are that Kenin takes on CoCo Vandeweghe instead of Clijsters. Vandeweghe and her doubles partner Nicole Melichar were a late Sunday night trade from the San Diego Aviators to the New York Empire. Clijsters teammates Kveta Peschke and Sabine Lisicki are now Aviators.
"Kim was the wild card," New York coach Luke Jensen says. "Lots of load management with three kids after nine years away. You know coming in she's extremely serious about this comeback to the tour and using this WTT season as a springboard to give her a lot of pressure competition. But seeing that it's day to day and the emotional [and physical] drain we are not really certain to have Clijsters in the lineup. We looked at options."
The deciding factor was Vandeweghe and Melichar impressing Jensen in their 5-3 win over Kenin and Taylor Townsend on Sunday night. The Aviators would lose and ultimately miss out on a chance at the playoffs. New York is currently fourth place and four teams qualify for Saturday's semifinal.
Kenin is eager not to miss her next chance at Clijsters, who could be back in the singles lineup by the weekend (assuming New York qualifies). No matter who Kenin faces, she's going to bring her signature intensity, the asset that helped her win the 2020 Australian Open and that will hopefully help her win the King Cup for Philadelphia.
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