Sofia Kenin’s father on Friday reflected on their journey from the Soviet Union all the way to Saturday’s Australian Open final, saying it helped make his daughter the player she is today.
The 21-year-old Kenin, who plays Spain’s Garbine Muguruza in the Melbourne final, has made a name for herself in the past fortnight for her aggression and tenacity.
Kenin – who prefers to go by the name “Sonya” – was born in Moscow but is a fiercely proud American.
The 14th seed, who stunned world number one Ashleigh Barty in the semi-finals, has a racquet decorated with the stars and stripes.
On the eve of the biggest match of her fast-burgeoning career, her father Alexander, who is also her coach, retold the family story.
He and wife Lena left the Soviet Union in 1987, initially for New York, returning to Russia for Sofia’s birth in 1998 so a grandmother could help with the newborn.
The family would later settle in Florida and Kenin says her parents sacrificed themselves “so I could have the American dream”.
Alexander said: “I wanted a better future for my kids and it (then Soviet Union) was a completely different country (to what it is today).
“Nothing was allowed and we tried to get out for eight years.
“They controlled everything, we didn’t see the world, you were just stuck.”
Leaving friends and family behind and heading into the unknown of the United States was a wrench, said Alexander, and life was tough eking out a living in New York.
Alexander was a taxi driver by night and went to English and computer school by day.
“I don’t think she experienced all the sacrifices we had to go through, but she knows about them,” he said.
“It was very, very tough. I had to work at night, go to school in the morning. Driving in New York, speaking English on the (taxi) radio. I had no idea what they were saying.
“But it’s amazing the things you do to survive. She knows about that and I think it made her tough.”
Kenin, who will usurp Serena Williams as the top-ranked American if she wins the final, picked up a racquet for the first time at three-and-a-half, hitting balls in the driveway of their Florida home.
She never showed any interest in dolls, her father said.
Unlike Kenin’s hero Maria Sharapova, who made a similar journey with her family to the United States but represented Russia, Alexander says there was never a debate about where her loyalties lay.
“She has very little connection with Russia, except the fact she was born there,” he said.
Asked how he would describe his daughter, the surprise-package of the Australian Open, his face lights up.
“She’s the best person in the world, that’s it,” he said.