12/09/2020 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/09/2020 13:11
Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin has been named WTA Player of the Year in the 2020 WTA Player and Coach Awards, which were voted on by members of the international media and were announced this week.
Kenin's consistent performances in a season which saw many tournaments postponed or cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic were enough for her to claim the top award. In addition to winning her first Grand Slam crown in Melbourne, Kenin also finished runner-up at Roland Garros in October, won the title at Lyon and finished the year at a career-high ranking of No. 4.
Her conqueror in Paris, Iga Swiatek, was voted WTA Most Improved Player of the Year, while Swiatek's coach, Piotr Sierzputowski, with whom she has worked since 2016, was named WTA Coach of the Year.
The Hungarian-French duo of Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic won the WTA Doubles Team of the Year award, having been victorious at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2020. Nadia Podoroska, a surprise semi-finalist at Roland Garros, was voted WTA Newcomer of the Year, and Victoria Azarenka was chosen as WTA Comeback Player of the Year, after reaching her first Grand Slam final for seven years at the US Open.
Two further award-winners were announced this week, both of which were voted on by the WTA player community. The Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Award went to Czech rising star Marie Bouzkova, while all 10 members of the WTA Players' Council were honoured with the Peachy Kellmeyer Player Service Award, with their peers recognising their commitment to resuming the season following the unprecedented break in play caused by the pandemic.
Kenin's path from talented junior to Grand Slam champion has been swift. The 22-year-old American made her junior Grand Slam debut at the US Open in 2014, and the following week she anchored her nation to victory at the Junior Fed Cup (since renamed the Junior Billie Jean King Cup) Finals in Mexico. She then won the title at the Orange Bowl in late 2014, and continued to perform well at junior-level over the following two seasons, reaching a career-high junior ranking of No. 2.
Her first forays into the professional game were successful - Kenin won two titles on the ITF Women's Circuit (now the ITF World Tennis Tour) in 2016 and another in 2017, while also picking up her first Grand Slam match-wins at the US Open in a 3rd round finish that year.
She continued her progress throughout 2018, making her Billie Jean King Cup debut in USA's defeat to Czech Republic in November, before winning her first Tour-level title at Hobart in early 2019. She would go on to win two further singles titles and was named WTA Most Improved Player of the Year for 2019, having started the year outside the top 50 and ending it at No. 14 in the world.
Few doubted Kenin's talent, but her victory in Melbourne earlier this year still surprised many - her steely triumph over world No. 1 and home favourite Ashleigh Barty proved Kenin's mettle, and she put in a superb performance to defeat two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza in the final. The following week, she represented USA in the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers in Everett, winning one of her two singles matches before teaming up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to win the decisive doubles match a secure a spot at the Finals for the Americans.
Kenin reached the round of 16 at her home Grand Slam in September before travelling to Europe for the rearranged clay court season. She brushed off a heavy defeat to Azarenka at Rome, before winning six matches at Roland Garros to reach a second Grand Slam final. It was only the brilliance of Swiatek that stopped her adding a further major title to her collection.
Like Kenin, Swiatek's journey to Grand Slam success owes much to a junior career that saw her hit the heights in both individual and team competitions. Having guided Poland to the Junior Billie Jean King Cup title as a 15-year-old in 2016 (defeating the top two seeds, Russia and USA, in the process), Swiatek reached the final at the Grade A Trofeo Bonfiglio the following year and the quarter-finals of the girls' singles at Roland Garros.
Ankle surgery saw Swiatek miss the remaining seven months of the 2017 season, but she firmly announced her presence as one of the top young players in the world on her return in 2018, reaching the semi-finals at junior Roland Garros and winning the girls' title at Wimbledon. She also won a gold medal in girls' doubles at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, her final junior event.
Swiatek made her Tour-level debut in 2019 and reached her first WTA final in Lugano in April. She ended the year ranked at No. 61 in the world. Solid showings at both the Australian and US Opens this year saw the Pole maintain a ranking just outside the Top 50 - but her performances at Roland Garros took her to a new level. Swiatek defeated 2019 finalist Marketa Vondrousova and 2018 champion Simona Halep en route to the final, dropping just 28 games across her seven victories. It was the lowest number of games dropped by a Roland Garros champion since the great Steffi Graf, who dropped just 20 games when she won the 1988 title in Paris.
While Kenin and Swiatek will both hope that Billie Jean King Cup success await them in future, the WTA Doubles Team of the Year consists of two players with vast experience in the competition. Hungarian fans will hope that Babos finds her best form at the Finals in Budapest next year, while Mladenovic was France's stand-out performer as they won the title with an away victory over Australia in Perth in 2019.
All four will hope to be in action for their nations in 2021 - USA, France and Hungary will compete at the inaugural Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Finals, while Swiatek will aim to steer Poland through a Play-Off tie against Brazil and give her team a chance of reaching the Finals in 2022.