MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Sofia Kenin found herself trailing Ash Barty for most of Thursday’s Australian Open semi-final but not for one moment did the American doubt she had what it takes to beat the world number one in front of her home fans.
While Barty came into the match holding the head-head-advantage, Kenin was not short on confidence having tied the Australian for hard-court wins (38) in 2019 when she won all three of her singles titles to reach a career-high world ranking of 12th.
Even when French Open champion Barty took the initiative with her big forehands and backhand slices Kenin said she still had confidence.
“I believed I could win even though I had two set points down in the first and second,” the American 21-year-old said.
“I could literally feel, I was telling myself, I believe in myself. If I lose the set, I’m still going to come out and believe.
“I didn’t give up. I knew it was a tough match. Of course, some things didn’t go my way with the challenges and some great shots she came up with. But I didn’t let that stop me.
“I was fighting. I left everything out all on the court, so it paid off.”
The American had won their most recent meeting in Toronto last year, and despite the partisan crowd at Rod Laver Arena willing Barty to stay on course and become Australia’s first home-grown champion in 42 years at the tournament Kenin would not be intimidated.
“I loved playing in this atmosphere. I love Australia. It has a special place in my heart,” she said, while also apologizing to the Australian fans.
“Of course, I knew they were cheering for Ash. There was some interesting cheers. I liked it. But it wasn’t for me. I just try to lock it out and focus on each point.”
With much of the U.S. tennis headlines focusing on Serena and Venus Williams, as well as the latest crowd-favorite in 15-year-old Coco Gauff, Kenin said she has had to work hard to get noticed.
“I know people haven’t really paid attention much to me in the past,” she said. “I had to establish myself, and I have.
“Of course, now I’m getting the attention, which I like it. Not going to lie.”
Kenin said Saturday’s final was what she had been working so hard for.
“I’ve pictured so many times being in the final, all the emotions, how it’s going to lead up into the final,” she said.
“Obviously, it’s a bit emotional and stuff. I feel like everything is just paying off.”
Editing by Peter Rutherford