Impressive play by two rising stars in U.S. women’s tennis was on display on Saturday at the French Open, and one of them managed to unseat the most decorated U.S. woman ever to play the game.
Sofia Kenin, 20, defeated No. 10 Serena Williams 6-2, 7-5 to earn the biggest win of her young career and move into the round of 16 for the first time at a Grand Slam tournament. Coming into the match Kenin was perhaps best known for a timely victory to help land the U.S. in the Fed Cup World Group last month, and she had advanced to the third round at Roland Garros when her second-round opponent withdrew because of injury.
On Saturday, however, Kenin played like someone who belonged right from the very beginning.
Capitalizing on some shaky play by Williams, who has dealt with injuries and illness since the Australian Open in January, Kenin took a 5-2 advantage in the first set. Playing for the set point, the two fought back and forth for the decider in what would foreshadow several games in the second set before Kenin sealed the win.
The Pembroke Pines, Florida, resident and 2014 Youth Olympian then opened up a 3-1 lead in the second set before things seemed to turn around for Williams, 37, in the sixth game. She broke serve after a back-and-forth battle for game point and then held to take a 5-4 lead. Kenin eventually forced Williams to break point with the set tied at 5-5, however, and then used a big forehand to land the ball just inside the line for the game. She held serve to end Williams’ run and the four-time Olympic champion’s quest for grand slam title No. 24. Kenin will now face No. 8 Ashleigh Barty of Australia in the fourth round.
“It’s a lot of emotions. Serena’s such a great player and a true champion,” Kenin said on court after the match. “Playing against Serena, you really have to fight for every point. I’m just so happy with this win.”
With Williams out there are now four U.S. women still alive in the tournament.
Also winning Saturday was 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who became the youngest American to reach the third round of the French Open since Williams in 1998. She defeated Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6(6), 6-4 and is the youngest player left in the draw. She will face Spain’s Aliona Bolsova next.
Madison Keys, a semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2018 and the No. 14 seed, reached the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-4 win over Russia’s Anna Blinkova. Blinkova, who entered through the qualifiers, had battled back to win several matches in this tournament but Keys used her serve and power to dominate the latter part of the tiebreaker and earn her spot in the final 16, where she’ll play Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.
On Friday, No. 7 Sloane Stephens outlasted Slovenia’s Polona Hercog 6-3, 5-7, 6-4. Last year’s French Open runner-up, Stephens will compete in the fourth round of the French Open after grinding out the three-set win in a match that took two and a half hours. Both players committed their share of unforced errors in the match and Stephens had four match points in the second set that she couldn’t put away. Stephens built up a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker, however, and held on for the win. She will face No. 19 Garbine Muguruza of Spain next.
Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.