For years, Pembroke Pines tennis phenom Sofia “Sonya” Kenin has dreamed of playing her idol, Maria Sharapova, on center court at a Grand Slam tournament. Her wish comes true at 11 a.m. Friday, when Kenin and Sharapova – both Russian-born – meet on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the third round of the U.S. Open.
Kenin, 18, reached her dream match by beating another rising Broward County player, 22-year-old Sachia Vickery, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-0).
“It’s so amazing to be able to play Maria on Arthur Ashe, hard to describe how I feel right now,” Kenin said by phone Wednesday night. “She’s a great player, someone I’ve always looked up to because she fights so hard on every point. I have to try not to get overwhelmed and just go out there and play my game.”
Sharapova is back in the spotlight after a 15-month drug suspension. She upset No. 2 Simona Halep in an emotional match Monday night.
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Kenin was born in Moscow, and moved to South Florida when she was a baby. Her father, Alexander, is her primary coach. She was home-schooled, and trains in Miramar and at Pro World Tennis Academy in Delray Beach. She won the Orange Bowl junior title, was a Jr. U.S. Open finalist in 2015, and won the USTA 18s title at age 16.
She began playing pro matches two years ago, and this summer won a tournament in Stockton, Calif., reached the final of another pro circuit event, and was awarded a wild card into the U.S. Open main draw. Her world ranking rose to No. 139.
Kenin says she has not decided yet whether to play tennis in college or accept her pro tennis earnings, but the $144,000 she has won so far this week may make her decision a little easier.
“I always felt I could play at this level, so I’m really proud of myself for getting here,” Kenin said. “My game has continued to improve, I’ve learned to control the points, and I go into Friday’s match with a lot of confidence. I’m in a good place. I just have to play good defense and move Maria around the court. I’m really excited. These are the moments you work for.”