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From Tucson to Sydney, a champion is born

TUCSON - Sofia "Sonya" Kenin won her first major tennis tournament last week when she took the 2020 Australian Open women’s singles championship.

Eight years ago, as a 12-year old, Kenin won the title here in Tucson at the USTA Winter National Championships.

She is believed to be the first champion of that junior event to go on and claim a Grand Slam tennis singles title.

Jim Grabb, who played tennis at Tucson High in the late 70s and early 80s, won the boys singles championship at the old Copper Bowl Junior Tennis Championships before vaulting to the world level and partnering in a pair of Grand Slam doubles titles (French Open-1989 and U.S. Open-1992).

Kenin was a child prodigy, training at the USTA High-Performance Center in Boca Raton, Florida, when she arrived in a cold and rainy Tucson in late December 2010.

The weather was so bad organizers had to reschedule three days' worth of matches into a single day, New Year’s Day 2011.

Kenin wasn’t fazed. The No. 1 seed in her age division won five matches on that single day, beating challenger Elizabeth Porter 7-5, 6-1 in the final to win her first Gold Ball.

Gold Balls are the trophy for tennis players who win what is termed a supernational tennis tournament.

Australian Open women's singles champion Sofia Kenin (r) poses with doubles partner Zoë Spence after they won the championship at Tucson's Refkin Tennis Center in January 2011 (Photo courtesy: Andrew Lee)

Kenin also partnered with current Notre Dame senior tennis player Zoë Spence, of Chicago, to win the doubles’ title at the 2012 Winter National Championships.

Spence is the first black scholarship athlete in the history of the Irish women’s tennis program.

After Tucson, Kenin would ascend to #1 junior rankings in the United States in every age division and reached #2 in the world at age 16.

She turned pro fulltime in 2018 and made her first big splash at the 2019 French Open when she upset Serena Williams in the third round.

Her run to the title in Australia included beating No. 1 ranked Ashley Barty, a comeback three-set victory over fellow American Coco Gauff before finishing off the title with 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 win over Garbine Muguruza.

The 21-year old is the youngest American woman to win a Grand Slam women’s title since Williams did it in 2002 and now the first to win Tucson’s major junior event and parlay that to championship singles success on one of the world’s top four stages.

Copyright 2020 News 4 Tucson. All rights reserved.

David Kelly

David Kelly is the weekend sports anchor at KVOA in Tucson. He is a 28-year veteran of the sports broadcast business.

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