SAN ANTONIO, April 22, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Sofia Kenin and Kathy Rinaldi won a Junior Fed Cup title five years ago for the United States as player and team captain. So, it should come as no surprise that when the U.S. needed to win just one of its final two rubbers to clinch their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group playoff tie against Switzerland, Rinaldi called on Kenin to get the job done.
On Sunday, with the Americans leading the Swiss 2-1, the 20-year-old Kenin clinched the key fourth rubber against Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland by coming back from 3-5 down in the second set to gain a straight-set victory, 6-3, 7-6 (4), in one hour and 47 minutes at Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas. It was Kenin’s first Fed Cup singles victory in three attempts going back to last year’s 2018 Fed Cup Final against the Czech Republic.
That winning feeling for @SonyaKenin 🎉
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) 21. April 2019
“I mean I’m like speechless as it’s my first win in Fed Cup,” said the 36th-ranked Kenin while fighting back tears during an on-court interview, linked arm-in-arm with Rinaldi. “I’m honestly so happy.
“I love Kathy from the bottom of my heart. She’s always there for me. Just playing for my country is incredible. It’s such an honor.”
Kenin’s triumph followed Sloane Stephens’ earlier 6-3, 6-2 win over Viktorija Golubic, and it added up to a 3-1 United States triumph over Switzerland. The Americans, who have won 18 previous Fed Cup titles, retain their World Group status for the 2020 Fed Cup competition while Switzerland will be relegated to World Group II next year.
After she secured match point against the 111th-ranked Bacsinszky, Kenin was giddily mobbed by her teammates, including Stephens, Madison Keys, Jessica Pegula and Jennifer Brady, and she received a big hug from Rinaldi, too. Then, the U.S. team continued its celebration with a victory lap around the court, led by Kenin, who hoisted an American flag.
With the U.S.-Switzerland tie level at 1-1 coming into Sunday’s play, the third rubber featured the No. 1 players for both teams as World No. 8 Stephens for the Americans opposed No. 80 Golubic for the Swiss. Although Golubic came in with a 19-6 win-loss record in all competitions compared to 9-7 for Stephens, the 26-year-old American’s experience in big matches was an intangible that worked in her favor.
Stephens won 70 percent (32 of 46) of her first-serve points, hit 17 winners and caused Golubic to commit 30 unforced errors. She broke her opponent’s serve four times in six tries. Two of those, which came in the fifth and seventh games of the second set, put the rubber out of reach after one hour and 19 minutes.
“It’s nice to have the whole team behind me and we just figured out what we needed to do against her and executed a good plan against her,” said Stephens following her victory.
Then, with the U.S. ahead 2-1, it was time for Kenin to step up and clinch it for the Americans. Rinaldi subbed in the Pembroke Pines, Fla., native for the struggling Keys, who lost 6-2, 6-3 to Golubic in the opening rubber on Saturday. Despite a winless record in her brief Fed Cup experience – and facing the 14-year Fed Cup veteran in Bacsinszky on the other side of the net – the crowd had Kenin’s back and willed her to victory.
During the second set tie-break, Kenin broke out to a 5-0 lead thanks to a pair of winners, an unreturned serve and a double fault by Bacsinszky. Then, two points later, Kenin held five match points at 6-1. Bacsinszky saved three of them to close to gap to 6-4. However, the Swiss netted the next point and the celebration began for the Americans.
Although Bacsinszky finished with more service aces (4 to 0) and hit more winners (21 to 14) than Kenin, she also committed 20 more unforced errors (45 to 25). Kenin outpointed her opponent 78-69 during their one hour and 47 minute match.
“I have so much joy right now,” said Kenin. “Kathy, I love you.”
During the interview after the victory, Rinaldi added: “I’m incredibly proud of the entire team. I’m so happy for Sofia. I’ve known her since she was seven years-old. She’s battled in the Fed Cup matches earlier this year and the final last year. To be able to come through and to clinch … it’s just amazing.
“These women are incredible role models. It all started when they were young. They put in a lot of hard work and determination. They’ve overcome adversity to work hard and lay it all out on the court and to compete. Dreams come true.”