Like Sharapova, Kenin was born in Russia and moved to the United States when she was a young girl. Those similarities were not lost on Kenin, who labeled Sharapova as one of her favorite players.
“It’s really exciting just to be at this position,” Kenin said, “and to be playing the person I’ve always looked up to in my life.”
She has long admired, and tries to emulate, Sharapova’s competitive drive and aggressive style, her ability to dictate points. Soon she will see those traits up close in front of the biggest audience of her life, perhaps even at Ashe, on Friday.
Kenin was one of several American women to win on Wednesday, including CoCo Vandeweghe, Jennifer Brady, Shelby Rodgers (who beat her fellow American Kayla Day), Nicole Gibbs, Christina McHale and Sloane Stephens, who upset No. 11 Dominika Cibulkova, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, in 2 hours 42 minutes on Court 10.
And the dean of all American women, ninth-seeded Venus Williams, advanced to the third round with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Oceáne Dodin at Ashe. Williams, 37, is in the same half of the draw with No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza, who defeated Ying-Ying Duan, 6-4, 6-0, once tournament officials found a court for her to play on during a busy day with 87 matches.
Williams has won the U.S. Open twice, in 2000 and 2001, and some see her as a candidate to go deep into the tournament. If both she and Sharapova continue to win, they could face each other in a semifinal. But neither player wanted to look that far ahead.
“At the end of the day, there’s people who are talking about the winning and there are people who are actually playing the matches,” Williams said. “I need to play the match.”
While some players on the WTA Tour have expressed dismay that Sharapova was granted a wild card into the U.S. Open despite her No. 146 ranking and her recent suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, Kenin is not among them.
“I see her as a great player,” she said. “I’m really happy that she’s back. She’s playing probably some of her best tennis. I have a lot of respect for her.”
Kenin is actually ranked higher than Sharapova — by seven spots, at No. 139 — but that is because of Sharapova’s 15-month suspension. Her three-set victory over Halep on Monday was her first match in a Grand Slam event since the Australian Open in January 2016.
Sharapova celebrated that win Monday by dropping to her knees and weeping. But Wednesday was more about surviving.
“I think that’s something that gave me confidence in the second — was toward the end of the second set, I felt like I was the fresher player,” she said. “Going into a third set, that’s a good position, or a good feeling, to have.”
But there is still rust left. The first set was patchy, especially with her serve. But Sharapova came out with fury in the second set and began to strike the ball with more authority, and her serve improved significantly.
She ended with 12 aces, including two in the second set’s final game, which she won without dropping a point.
A key moment in that set came with Sharapova serving, down by 2-3. A 10-minute, 16-point game ensued, and Sharapova emerged with the game, firing a service winner to end it.
By then, it was clear that she would not cede control, and Babos was showing signs of distress. She lost her serve in the opening game of the third set, with Sharapova punishing her second serve. Babos won only 29 percent of her second serves.
Sharapova consolidated her break in the next game, then broke again when Babos was serving at 1-3.
“There’s a certain level of ‘I know I can do this,’” Sharapova said. “I’ve done it before. I want to have that feeling again. But there’s also the realistic understanding of: ‘O.K., you haven’t been in this situation for a while. It’s going to take a little time.’”
Continue reading the main story