'Couldn't handle the pressure': Defending champ in tears after shock exit

Andrew Reid
·5-min read
Pictured here, Sofia Kenin was left visibly upset after her second round loss at the Australian Open.
Sofia Kenin cut a solemn figure in her shock second round defeat. Pic: Getty

Defending women's champion Sofia Kenin admits she "couldn't handle the pressure" after being sensationally dumped out of the Australian Open on Thursday.

Kenin's title defence ended with a whimper after Kaia Kanepi ousted the American in a dominant straight sets victory.

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Kanepi was on the front foot from the outset and never seriously looked troubled by the fourth seed, as she romped away in a 6-3 6-2 second-round rout.

The reigning women's champion is the biggest domino to fall so far at Melbourne Park and the American couldn't hide her disappointment the match.

In a gut-wrenching post-match press conference, Kenin burst into tears after admitting that she couldn't control her nerves.

“My head wasn’t there,” she said. “Obviously I’m not going to take any credit away from her. She played really well at those good points.

“I had chances. I just couldn’t take it. I obviously know why because the nerves big-time got to me.”

The tears returned again when she was asked about the pressure of defending the title, adding that she knew retaining the trophy would be a tall order given her mental state.

“I’m not there 100% physically, mentally, my game. Everything just feels real off obviously. It’s not good,” she added.

“It’s weird. I’ve been practicing for two weeks. Luckily I’ve been able to practice. I felt fine in practice. Just couldn’t do that in the game.”

Russian-born Kenin said she had not decided where she would play next but admitted she had a lot of thinking to do about how to arrest the slump in her form.

“I know I couldn’t really handle the pressure,” she said.

“I’m not obviously used to this, so right now I just got to figure out how to play at that level that I played at. Because like today and those matches, it just hasn’t been there.”

Kenin exit opens door for Barty

The exit of the fourth seed, even at the hands of a player who last week was ranked 94th in the world, was not the surprise it might have been given that Kenin had been talking about struggling with her nerves since finishing quarantine.

“The Australia trip, that was something that I had my eye on,” she said.

“I knew I was going to have pressure. I knew I was going to have emotions, nerves, everything all together. Yeah, for sure Australia, the Aussie swing, definitely got me.”

Beyond her Australian Open triumph, the American also made the final of the French Open and was named WTA player of the year.

But she had a difficult start to summer, copping a straight-sets thumping from Garbina Muguruza in the quarter-finals of last week's Yarra Valley Classic, then being well tested by Maddison Inglis in the first round.

Kenin beat Ash Barty in last year's semi-final and was on track to again meet Australia's world No.1 in this year's final four.

Sofia Kenin can be seen here on the verge of tears as she leaves the court.
Sofia Kenin choked back tears as she left the court following a shock second round defeat at the Australian Open. Pic: Getty

Her exit further opens the door for Barty to claim an elusive grand slam title on home soil, with the Aussie disposing of compatriot Daria Gavrilova in straight sets on Thursday.

A player known for letting her emotions spill out on court, Kenin struggled to maintain composure after an early break of serve saw her slump to a 4-1 deficit in the first set.

Kanepi broke Kenin a second time then ripped through her final service game to close out the set.

Kenin looked poised to respond after cruising through her opening service game, but was unable to best Kanepi's serve and was instead herself broken twice in the second set.

Kanepi relished her service games throughout and her confidence came to the fore in the final game when, trailing 15-30, she ripped three consecutive aces to win the match.

"I served really well today - i think this helped a lot," Kanepi said.

"But my game plan was play aggressively, as I normally do."

The Estonian veteran will meet 28th seed Donna Vekic in the third round after the Croatian made light work of Argentina's Nadia Podoroska with a 6-2 6-2 victory.

with agencies

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