It seems, above all, cyclical, and Williams’s decline has coincided with a new generation’s rise. Ashleigh Barty is 23, Naomi Osaka is 22, Kenin is 21 and Bianca Andreescu is 19. All of them have won majors in the past 13 months, and best of luck to those who want to predict the winner at upcoming majors.
Kenin, a Russian-born American, was hardly an unknown threat. She won three tournaments last season and also defeated Barty when she was No. 1 in Toronto and Osaka the following week when she was No. 1 in Cincinnati.
Kenin is at her best on hardcourts but had not been past the fourth round in a major tournament before. In Melbourne, she defeated the fastest-rising young talent in the game, 15-year-old Coco Gauff. She then beat Barty, who was seeded No. 1 and had huge Australian crowd support. In the final, Kenin faced down the more powerful and aggressive Garbiñe Muguruza, a former French Open and Wimbledon champion.
It was quite a run, and the pièce de résistance was the fifth game of the third set of the final. At 2-2 and down 0-40, Kenin produced four groundstroke winners and an ace to hold serve. “That game is going to be with me forever,” Kenin said.
Now ranked No. 7, she could become a top 10 regular if she remains healthy, but to surmise that she is now ready to dominate is a stretch. She has pluck and a serve that is surprisingly hard to attack. She has exquisite timing from the baseline, an improved forehand and a nasty drop shot. The past two weeks she was unflappable. But others have bigger weapons and more speed, and others, like Andreescu, have shown a knack of their own for coming up big on the grand occasion.
“Sonya hates to lose,” said Alex Kenin, her father and coach, using her nickname. “It’s just not an option, so she just refused to do that.”
No one likes losing, of course, and his daughter, for all her fire and hunger, will surely no longer catch any would-be champion by surprise.