Sofia Kenin had to call her superstitious mother to break the news she’d won the Australian Open on Saturday because she refuses to watch on TV, fearing it will bring bad luck.
The 21-year-old’s father is her coach but the rest of the family was back in the United States as Kenin announced herself to the sporting world with her first Grand Slam title.
The 14th seed showed all her trademark battling qualities to stun two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in Melbourne.
“I called her right after the match just to tell her that everything’s fine, I won, she can just relax now,” a beaming Kenin told reporters, glass of champagne in hand, referring to mother Lena.
“She’s been really stressed at home, very superstitious. I told her I’m not going to be able to talk to you for hours, but at least you know that I won.
“I’m coming home, you can give me the biggest hug of your life.”
At least Lena did not suffer alone and was accompanied by Kenin’s grandmother, sister and the family dogs back in Florida.
“They don’t watch, my mom cannot watch me,” said Moscow-born Kenin, a proud American who will now usurp Serena Williams as the top-ranked player from the United States.
“She doesn’t like watching, it’s fine.”
Kenin, who dumped top seed and home hope Ashleigh Barty out in the semi-finals, said repeatedly that her mental strength was key to the biggest title of her tennis life.
She also put her hand over her mouth on several occasions, almost disbelieving at what she had achieved, and later said she was “on cloud nine”.
Kenin pinpointed the fifth game of the deciding set, when she was down 0-40 on her serve before reeling off five clean winners in a row to go up 3-2, as the moment the match swung in her favour.
“I can remember that game very well, that’s the game I feel changed things,” said Kenin, who was born in Moscow but moved with her family to the United States as a baby in search of a better life.
“I knew I needed to come up with the best shot, five best shots of my life.”
“It got me to win a Grand Slam,” she added, smiling broadly once more. “I had to play some of my best tennis. I did. After that, I was on fire. I was ready to take the beautiful trophy.”
Kenin had a dream run in the tournament as she defeated world number one Ash Barty and Coco Gauff. In the final, she bounced back after losing the first set 4-6.
The US player had defeated Muguruza in three sets in their only previous encounter. In the final, Muguruza seemed to be in trouble with back pain and even took a timeout before the final set.
The deciding set saw Kenin save three game points in the fifth game before Muguruza double-faulted to sighs from Rod Laver Arena.
Muguruza was rattled and double-faulted again – her eighth – to gift the title to Kenin.
At 21 years and 80 days, Kenin is 22 days younger than Japan’s Naomi Osaka when she won the title last year. She is the youngest champion since Maria Sharapova won aged 20 in 2008.
(With AFP inputs)