Serena Williams lost to a younger American in their first match together for the first time in her two-decade career. Sofia Kenin, a 20-year-old born in Moscow and raised in Florida, upset the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion 6-2, 7-5 in the French Open third round.
“In that first set in particular, she hit pretty much inches from the line, and I haven’t played anyone like that in a long time,” Williams said. “She just played literally unbelievable.”
Williams dropped to 34-3 all-time against younger Americans (h/t @BenRothenberg). Kenin joins Sloane Stephens and Madison Brengle as the slayers, but Stephens and Brengle needed three sets to do it in second career meetings with the legend.
“It’s a lot of emotions,” said Kenin, who saw her father and longtime coach in the stands filming her on-court interview with a smartphone. “Serena’s such a great player and a true champion, so all respect for her.”
It’s the end of an up-and-down tournament for Williams, who said she debated daily last week whether to withdraw. The 37-year-old pulled out of her previous three tournaments with health problems, citing a left knee injury at the last two.
Then she had to rally past her 83-ranked first-round foe, Russian Vitalia Diatchenko, 2-6, 6-1, 6-0. Though Williams swept Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara in round two, she would lose seven straight games to Kenin between the first and second sets on Saturday. It’s her earliest Grand Slam loss since 2014 Wimbledon.
Williams said after Saturday’s loss that she wasn’t fully match fit. She hopes she’ll be in optimal shape by Wimbledon in a month.
“I’m just pretty far away, but that’s the optimistic part is I haven’t been able to be on the court as much as I would have,” she said. “It’s just been a really grueling season for me.”
Kenin proved herself after needing three sets to get past an Italian qualifier in round one, then receiving a walkover against injured Canadian Bianca Andreescu in the second round.
Kenin, ranked No. 35, is into the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time in nine tries. No. 8 Ashleigh Barty awaits.
Williams made her Grand Slam return from childbirth in Paris last year, reaching the fourth round before withdrawing minutes before a match with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral injury. She then made the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, but couldn’t grab the crowns, and seemed destined for the Australian Open semifinals before a late-match ankle injury.
She remains one shy of Margaret Court‘s record 24 Slam singles titles
Earlier Saturday, No. 1 Naomi Osaka was knocked out by the world’s top doubles player, Czech Katerina Siniakova. Defending champion Simona Halep is the lone Grand Slam winner left in the top half of the draw and the only top-five player left at all.
Amanda Anisimova, 17, became the youngest U.S. woman to reach the French Open fourth round since Williams in 1998. She took out Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu 7-6 (6), 6-4.
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