The 21-year-old American didn’t hesitate.
“Winning, definitely,” she said. “That’s my answer.”
Kenin has never hidden her desire to win titles or become the best in the world, but to hear it said so succinctly proved her win-at-all-costs mentality. She backed that up on Thursday with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova to advance to her second career major final.
“She deserved to win for sure today,” said Kvitova, who hadn’t dropped a set all tournament entering the match. “She was just better.”
Having won the Australian Open in February, Kenin now has a chance to win her second Grand Slam and rise to No. 3 in the rankings. She hopes to become the first woman since Angelique Kerber in 2016 to hoist two major trophies in the same year and just the third American woman ever to reach her first two Slam finals during the same season. Both feats are even more impressive given there were only three opportunities to do so in 2020, as Wimbledon was canceled. Kenin will face 19-year-old Iga Swiatek on Saturday in the women’s championship match.
She made it clear to expect the same tenacity and fiery on-court demeanor she is known for in the final.
“Losing I really hate, and I love winning,” she said Thursday. “I try to do everything I can to win.”
That win-at-all-costs mentality has been visible throughout the fortnight. She has yelled and screamed — pumping herself up with “Come on!” refrains — and tossed her racket. She has received multiple fines and warnings for receiving help from her coach (her father), Alex. He, too, has shown his willingness to help however possible — even awkwardly changing seats during her fourth-round match to sit directly next to her opponent’s coach in an apparent intimidation tactic. Having to play deciders in all but two matches, Kenin has needed whatever extra edge she could find en route to the final.
To say 2020 has been a breakthrough season for Kenin would be an understatement. She started the year having never advanced past the fourth round at a major. She then steamrolled her way through the draw in Melbourne — including a win over home favorite and world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the semifinals and two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza in the final. She became the youngest American to win a Grand Slam singles title since Serena Williams in 1999, and surpassed Williams as the highest-ranking countrywoman with the victory at No. 7. She notched her second title of the year in Lyon, France, on March 8, just hours before Indian Wells was canceled. She rose to a career-high No. 4 in the rankings the next day but was unable to play for months as the season was suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Like many of her peers, Kenin struggled with the abrupt halt of her globetrotting schedule and the uncertainty about when competition would resume. She was disappointed to not have the chance to enjoy all of the perks that come with winning a major title and playing the best tennis of her career. She returned to her home in Florida and initially found it difficult to find the will to keep training since she had no idea when she would play again.
Her father wouldn’t let her lose sight of her goals and what she wanted to achieve. He wanted her to be ready for whenever competition would resume.
“I’m always with my dad, and he’s my coach, and he just kept telling me, ‘You have to keep motivated, try to keep motivated,'” she told ESPN.com in July. “He really helped me through that. When I found out about [an exhibition tournament at] Charleston, I got really excited and motivated. I just wanted to compete again.”
She played in the team event in Charleston, South Carolina, in June, then signed on for her first season of World TeamTennis, held in a bubble in West Virginia for three weeks in July. If there was an opportunity to play a competitive match — no matter when or where — she was going to take it. And she kept the possibility of playing at both the US Open and the French Open front-and-center in her thoughts at all times — using the two majors as inspiration during every tough practice.
“I am setting in my mind that they both are going to happen,” she said in the interview over the summer. “I know they might not but I can’t think like that. I have to have goals.”
Despite her lofty expectations, Kenin lacked her signature intensity in the “double in the bubble” events in New York when the season resumed. She lost her opener to Alize Cornet in straight sets at the Western & Southern Open, and then in the fourth round to Elise Mertens at the US Open. Her start to the clay-court season was even worse — she was double bageled by Victoria Azarenka in the first round in Rome.
After what she called the “disaster” of a match at the Italian Open, she was able to arrive in Paris earlier than anticipated and worked to acclimate to the autumn conditions and the Roland Garros courts as best she could. The strategy worked.
“It took some time for me to get my motivation back,” she said Thursday after her semifinal victory. “I finally got it. I feel like I’m playing the best tennis right now, as well.
“I was playing really well in Australia. Now I feel like I’m playing as good or even better.”
Kenin enters the French Open women’s final in the unusual position as the older and more experienced player, and the pressure that comes with it. She and Swiatek have never played against one another at the WTA level, but they are familiar with one another’s games — Swiatek beat Kenin in the third round of the juniors tournament at Roland Garros in 2016.
Currently ranked No. 54 in the world, Swiatek has been playing the best tennis of her career at Roland Garros, and knocked off No. 1 seed and 2018 champion Simona Halep 6-2, 6-1 in the fourth round in just over an hour. No one has taken more than five combined games against her throughout her dominant run in Paris. Kenin, who was seen briefly sitting with her father at Court Philippe Chatrier watching Swiatek warm up on Thursday, hasn’t forgotten their previous meeting.
“I remember I lost,” Kenin said. “I don’t remember how I played, but definitely I can say I was not as comfortable on clay as I am now, as I started to feel last year.
“I have to figure out what she does. She’s had a great two weeks here, she’s had some great results, playing some really good tennis. I know that I’m also playing well. I’m just going to enjoy myself today, and then tomorrow I’m going to prepare for Saturday.”
If Kenin isn’t fazed, it’s because she has been primed for this moment. Having first picked up a racket at 5 years old shortly after the family moved from Russia to the United States, she showed immediate promise in the sport. She has logged hundreds of thousands of miles and played countless matches since those early days, but her words in a video interview from when she was 7 are perhaps even truer today.
“I want to be a champion, and I want to be No. 1 in the world.”
Saturday, she has a chance to get one step closer to her childhood goal and one thing is for certain: She will do whatever it takes to achieve it.
World Series ‘travel day’ roundtable: Everything we learned in Games 1 and 2
It’s a travel day in the 2020 World Series … just without any travel.
While they do, ESPN baseball writers Sam Miller and David Schoenfield answer some key questions so far this Fall Classic.
What has stood out to you most over the first two games of this World Series?
Sam Miller: How much deeper the Rays’ lineup looks when Brandon Lowe and Joey Wendle aren’t helpless. Tampa Bay got through three playoff rounds behind good pitching and Randy Arozarena, but every inning seemed to start with slumping Rays hitters making two quick outs. Lowe, their best regular-season hitter/worst postseason hitter, broke out with two homers in Game 2. Wendle, in a similar slide, hit one oppo-rocket for a sac fly and pulled a double so hard that Mookie Betts took a bad route at it. Austin Meadows and Yandy Diaz each hit his hardest ball this postseason in Game 2, and Manuel Margot is showing that he might have actually turned into a star sometime in mid-August. The Kershaws and Buehlers of the world might still shut this lineup down, but the Rays should scare the rest of the Dodgers’ staff.
David Schoenfield: That maybe this isn’t going to be the low-scoring, grind-it-out, home runs-or-die series that we expected. With scores of 8-3 and 6-4, we’ve seen a little more offense than perhaps anticipated given the two pitching staffs. Also, that second-guessing in the World Series will forever remain a fun parlor game. Did Kevin Cash leave Tyler Glasnow in too long in Game 1? Did the Dodgers outthink themselves with a bullpen game in Game 2? Why does Dustin May not strike out more batters given his fastball? What is with all these “contact” plays by the runner on third base this postseason? OK, it worked for Mookie Betts on Tuesday, but it has failed several other times. Are 28-man rosters too many players? (Yes.) Are you tired off bullpen games? (Yes.) Is Corey Seager locked in right now? (Yes.) Do Dodgers fans want to see Joe Kelly in a close game? (No.)
What do the Dodgers need to do to win the series from here?
Miller: It sounds like the worst kind of cliche, but they just need to do what they do. The Dodgers are (no offense, Tampa Bay!) the better team here, and even in two split games it has showed: The Dodgers have 50 points of OBP on Tampa Bay so far in this series and 80 points of slugging. The regular-season Dodgers were only the 11th team in modern history with a winning percentage over .700, and so far in the postseason, against other postseason teams, they have the run differential of a .700 team. If they don’t make any gaffes and they just [serious cliche voice] play like they’re capable of playing, they’re going to win every seven-game series that isn’t beset by weirdness.
Schoenfield: Picking up where Sam left off, keep working those counts. They made Tyler Glasnow throw 112 pitches in just 4⅓ innings. Blake Snell was great in Game 2 through four innings, but in the end they drew four walks off him and knocked him out after 4⅔ innings. They’ve seen Nick Anderson and Pete Fairbanks now and the more they see of them, the better they will adjust. As good as the Tampa Bay pen is, Cash doesn’t really want to go too deep, and with three games in three days, reliever fatigue becomes a potential issue.
What do the Rays need to do to win the series from here?
Miller: Get Nick Anderson right. Anderson was the best reliever in baseball for the year prior to this month, and the Rays use him so aggressively that it’d be easy to see him being named MVP of this series. But arguably his four worst outings of the year — OK, probably four of his worst five — have come in his past four appearances. His rightness obviously carries extra importance, because he comes into the biggest moment of every close game. He doesn’t have the freedom to fail just a little bit. But beyond the direct impact his pitches have, the Rays’ trust in him sets the rest of the pitching plan. If you’re counting to 27 outs and you don’t have Anderson for four to seven of them, that has ramifications for Charlie Morton and Blake Snell, for Pete Fairbanks and Diego Castillo, for the whole story the Rays are trying to tell.
Schoenfield: Sam took my suggestion. Indeed, the dirty little secret for the Rays is that Anderson hasn’t actually been that good in the postseason. He has now been scored on in five straight appearances and in six of his eight games in the playoffs. After averaging 14.3 K’s per nine innings in his limited action in the regular season, he has only eight in 13 postseason innings. Anyway, let’s go with this: Ride Charlie Morton. Given Anderson’s struggles, it’s important that Morton shuts down the Dodgers in Game 3 … and then again in Game 7 if the series goes the distance. Morton is riding a streak of five straight postseason starts dating to 2019 where he has given up one earned run or fewer (including his past two). His longest outing in this stretch has been just 5⅔ innings, but if he gives up one run in five innings, the Rays will be in a great position.
Who is the MVP of the series through two games?
Miller: Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw took control of this series for the Dodgers on the fourth batter of the first game, when — with two on and one out — he got Hunter Renfroe on a checked swing for a huge strikeout. He then retired 16 of the next 17 batters as the Dodgers’ offense chewed through three Tampa Bay pitchers to first take a small lead and then build a big one. No, they couldn’t keep control of the series after Kershaw left, and we go into the first “travel” day tied. But nobody looms over the rest of this series quite so much as Kershaw, the pitcher Tampa Bay couldn’t hit, lined up for a Game 5 start and a probable Game 7 (if necessary) relief appearance.
Schoenfield: Kershaw is in the best shape to win it for the entire series since he’s now guaranteed a start in Game 5 since the Rays avoided the sweep. It’s hard for a pitcher to win MVP honors though. If it’s close — like Steve Pearce and David Price in 2018 — it seems as if the hitter usually wins. We’ve had 21 MVPs since 2000 (Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling shared it in 2001), but pitchers have won only six.
What have you noticed the most about the neutral site, limited fans World Series so far?
Miller: I haven’t noticed their presence very much, to be honest. I certainly haven’t noticed fans affecting the game the way 40,000 delirious partisans can. Maybe it’s different for the players in the middle of it, but if there’s a spectrum that ranges from “empty” to “full and Octobery,” it has felt closer to empty.
Schoenfield: Now, this wouldn’t have been a problem with a regular Tampa Bay-Los Angeles World Series since both are warm-weather cities and the Rays play indoors, but it has been nice that the entire postseason has been played in warm-weather locations — the way baseball is supposed to be played. No winter jackets. No heaters in the dugouts. No turtlenecks or ski masks. Am I advocating for a permanent warm-weather World Series? Well, it’s supposed to snow in Minneapolis on Thursday with a high of 35.
How will a travel day off — without travel — impact the rest of this series?
Miller: Probably a lot less than we would have guessed 36 hours ago! The break (and the break between Games 5 and 6) will let the Dodgers use Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin in relief during the games “in” Tampa Bay, which seemed important except that neither of them has looked very good lately. None of either team’s high-leverage relievers are gassed, thanks to the blowout Tuesday. I guess the day gives Tampa Bay a chance to reset its bullpen after Anderson’s and Fairbanks’ extended outings Wednesday, but neither threw that many pitches. Uh … it gives Kevin Kiermaier‘s wrist another day to get healthy, if that’s still a factor? Dave? Got something better?
Schoenfield: More time for the Dodgers to outthink themselves? I kid! I kid! The Dodgers will definitely make all the right choices in their pitching decisions, just like in the 2017 World Series and 2018 World Series and … OK, here’s the deal. They can play the next three games straight with Walker Buehler, Julio Urias and then Kershaw going. I think Dave Roberts has finally decided on who his top relievers are: Blake Treinen, Brusdar Graterol, Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen from the right side and then maybe Victor Gonzalez and Jake McGee from the left side. Trouble is, he had all those righties available in Game 2 (only Baez pitched in Game 1), yet he used the struggling May and then Joe Kelly and those two combined to give up four runs (he got away with using Alex Wood, the worst pitcher on the staff). This is the World Series. It’s not time to save your best relievers for only when you’re ahead. It’s important to hold down the fort at all times and … oh, wait, you were asking about the “travel” day, not the Dodgers’ bullpen. My bad.
2020 NBA free agency and trades: Latest buzz, news and reports
The 2020 NBA free-agent class won’t have the star power of last season — when nearly half the league became available — but plenty of big names are set to hit the market. Even more could be offered in trade talks.
Will back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sign a five-year extension with the Milwaukee Bucks? What is the market for Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet? Is Anthony Davis a lock to return to the champion Los Angeles Lakers?
Keep it here for the latest news, buzz and analysis throughout the free agency and trade season.
Oct. 21 updates
3 p.m. ET: During the introduction of new Indiana Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren, team president Kevin Pritchard discussed the biggest offseason question remaining for the franchise: the future of two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo, who can become an unrestricted free agent after next season.
“[Oladipo] feels good about the team. He’s talked to me about how he thinks this team can be very good,” Pritchard said. “We hear a lot of things, but until it comes to me, I don’t really worry about that.”
Oladipo is entering the final year of four-year, $85 million deal.
11:34 a.m. ET: The Minnesota Timberwolves, who don’t yet see a clear choice for their No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, are closely evaluating all situations, including trade scenarios, before coming up with a set plan on draft night, ESPN’s Eric Woodyard reports.
“For us, we typically study the draft from 1 to whatever number we feel like is a draftable player,” Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said. “And we’ll evaluate those guys for trade scenarios, trade back, trade out, for undrafted free-agent opportunities, for minor league opportunities, so we really beat up the draft board as much as can all the way up until the draft.”
Minnesota also holds the 17th and 33rd picks in the Nov. 18 draft.
Oct. 12 update
“I had a great time in L.A. this first year. This has been nothing but joy, nothing but amazement. Over the next couple of months, we’ll figure it out. I mean, I’m not 100 percent sure, but that’s why my agent [Rich Paul] is who he is, and we’ll discuss it and figure it out,” Davis said.
Davis is expected to opt out of his $28.8 million contract for 2020-21 and could receive $32.7 million next season if the salary cap stays at $109.1 million, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.
Must-reads: NBA offseason
With the trade market to reopen soon, NBA Insider Kevin Pelton examines what’s next for Brooklyn, Golden State, Oklahoma City and Philadelphia.
NBA Front Office Insider Bobby Marks runs though all 30 teams with breakdowns on big-picture priorities, draft assets, potential moves, cap-space possibilities and team needs.
A four-win NFC East champ? How it could happen, plus predictions from our staff
Just how low can a division winner go? The NFC East appears set to put this to a test.
The teams’ .229 combined winning percentage is the second worst for any division through Week 6 since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The imploding Dallas Cowboys (2-4) are in first place, without their starting quarterback Dak Prescott, who is out for the remainder of the season.
If that sounds bleak, here’s a pick-me-up: The NFC East should get two wins this week, unless the Philadelphia Eagles (1-4-1) produce another tie.
Picking a winner in this division is tough. It’s like going to the pumpkin patch and being forced to pick from the deformed options still remaining on the day before Halloween. Even the winner won’t be pretty.
ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) predicts there is a 28% chance the NFC East winner will have six or fewer wins. Again, not pretty. They even found simulations (13 out of 20,000) where the division champion emerged despite four wins.
Nobody expected this kind of start for the division, but NFC East reporters Todd Archer (Cowboys), Tim McManus (Eagles), Jordan Raanan (Giants) and John Keim (Washington) take a swing at predicting how the rest of the season will play out for their teams.
The situation: Can the Cowboys even get to seven wins?
Is there a game the rest of the season where you absolutely know the Cowboys win? There isn’t.
And whatever positives you’re thinking about the Cowboys’ chances, the other team is feeling that same way about playing them.
Injuries, turnovers, poor defensive execution.
It has added up to an immensely disappointing start to the 2020 season, and the remaining schedule does not show much promise at the moment.
Predicted finish: 7-9 — Archer
The situation: The Eagles have been ripped apart by injuries each of the past three seasons, but even for them, this is ridiculous.
It will be a struggle every week, but with Prescott lost for the season, the Eagles have the clear-cut top QB in the division in Wentz, as well as a Super Bowl winning coach in Doug Pederson and some mettle-tested veterans.
That should be enough to clean up in the remainder of their divisional games.
Predicted finish: 6-9-1 — McManus
The situation: The Giants won a game, so I guess that puts them in the division mix.
It doesn’t take much these days.
They are moving in the right direction, having bought into coach Joe Judge’s program.
And unlike the Cowboys, at least Judge’s team is showing fight.
Predicted finish: 4-12 — Raanan
The situation: This was, and remains, a rebuilding season, despite the obvious desire to win the division.
Washington has lost five straight games, and four of those were by 14 or more points.
The offensive struggles were to be expected, but that wasn’t the case with the defense, which does feature a solid front.
Washington has a lot of youth, so the second half of the season will be important — not just in terms of wins and losses, but definite growth.
Predicted finish: 4-12 — Keim
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