Kenin clinches for U.S. with first Fed Cup win
SAN ANTONIO – Five months removed from Fed Cup final heartbreak, 20-year-old Sonya Kenin clinched a 3-1 victory for Team USA over Switzerland with her first career victory in the competition. A substitute for the fourth rubber, Kenin was moved to tears as she defeated Timea Bacsinszky, 6-3, 7-6, to secure her team's spot in the 2020 World Group.
The opportunity meant so much to Kenin that she cried even before the match.
"I had to get the emotions out," she explained. "And then I came back to the locker room: 'OK guys, I just cried. I'm OK now.'"
The world No. 36 was introduced to Fed Cup last November, in the most extreme circumstances. Team USA was vying for a second consecutive title, facing the Czech Republic in the hostile territory of Prague’s 18,000-capacity O2 Arena. With many American stalwarts unavailable after a grueling WTA season, captain Kathy Rinaldi called on Kenin to make her debut, as the U.S. No. 1. The Pembroke Pines, Fla., resident rose to the occasion, and despite two three-set defeats, she more than proved her worth with a gutsy display in Red, White and Blue.
“I think the greatest experience was I was there [in the Fed Cup environment],” Kenin said of her early Team USA career, which also included a tough loss to Australia’s Ashleigh Barty in February. “I didn’t get the win, unfortunately, especially in Prague.”
This week, she was initially left out of the U.S. singles lineup, behind No. 8 Sloane Stephens and No. 14 Madison Keys. But after Keys struggled in a Day 1 loss to Swiss No. 1 Viktorija Golubic, Kenin was preferred for the potentially match-clinching fourth rubber against Bacsinszky. Captain Rinaldi, who coached Kenin to a junior Fed Cup title in 2014, informed her pupil of the decision on Saturday.
"We have confidence in everybody, and we're one team," Rinaldi said of the switch. "When one player is down, another player picks up, and that's what Sonya and Sloane did this weekend."
With a night to prepare and go over her game plan, Kenin was crisp in set one, not alowing a break point in five service games. She made her breakthrough in the eighth game, cashing in on the Bacsinszky serve in the only deuce game of the set.
The youngster showed veteran patience in dealing with her opponent’s heavy slice game—the Swiss hit more slice than topspin on her forehand in the first set, according to Tennis Channel. Kenin calmly worked the points, gradually improving her court positioning as she prodded for openings. Though both women ended the set with five winners, Kenin was clearly the aggressor.
Bacsinszky’s touch turned the tide early in set two. She won a pair of deuce games to start the stanza, earning he first break in the process, and went to the changeover with a 3-0 lead.
“The first two games just didn’t go my way,” Kenin said. “The next game, she served amazing. So I just knew I had to play and fight.
"I felt like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing, so Kathy was like, ‘Go back to your game plan. Let’s do this.’”
With the help of her captain and the crowd, Kenin broke back immediately and soon knotted the set at 3-all.
“Once it was 3-all, I’m like, ‘OK, I have a chance.’”
At 5-all, deuce, Kenin seemingly won the point twice after tracking down a sky-high defensive lob—a shot her opponent employed to great effect throughout the contest from both defensive and neutral positions. On the ensuing break point, the American fended off a Bacsinszky overhead and claimed the break with a dipping return that the Swiss could only volley into the net.
With the end in sight, Bacsinszky broke back through an unpredictable combination of high, looping forehands, net-skimming slices and laser ground strokes. As a tiebreak loomed, the Freeman Coliseum crowd rose to their collective feet, sensing the gravity of the moment.
It was Kenin who set the tone in the breaker, as she tracked down a well-placed drop shot to take the opening point on the return. The American quickly took hold of the tiebreak with a pair of down-the-line winners, an unreturned serve and a Bacsinszky double fault for 5-0. Two points later, she held five match points, at 6-1.
“I’m sure everybody saw this, but at 6-1 in the second-set tiebreaker, I literally started crying,” she revealed. “I cried and I tried to go back and not cry. I just felt so much emotion.”
But the drama was not finished yet. From 6-1, the stubborn Swiss reeled off three points in a row, ratcheting up the tension with a Kenin serve to come, at 6-4.
When a Bacsinszky forehand found the net on match point, the party was on. The American team—previously a bundle of nervous energy on the sideline—stormed onto the court to celebrate with Kenin.
“I’m a nervous Nancy, so I was very nervous,” said Stephens, who put the U.S. in position to clinch with a pair of singles victories. “I was like, 'OK, well, she’s got to win. If she wins, we’re just going to storm the court.' Obviously, a big moment for her, winning her first Fed Cup match.”
"They lifted me up, and I almost fell," beamed Kenin. "But they caught me."
In the glow of her triumph, Kenin took a well-earned victory lap with the American flag, soaking in the support of the San Antonio crowd. The Americans will continue to fly the flag in the World Group next season.
“Just to get back in the World Group is important,” said Stephens, the most experienced member of the U.S. team. “We want to be competing for another Fed Cup title, so it was really important to get back there.”
Already the most successful Fed Cup nation, with 18 titles in their storied history, Team USA will be on the hunt for No. 19 in 2020.
The weekend concluded with doubles, as Jessica Pegula and Jennifer Brady made their Fed Cup debuts. The Americans fell, 7-5, 6-2, to a pair fo Swiss debutants in Ylena In-Alon and Conny Perrin, finalizing the tie with a score of 3-2 for Team USA.