Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin's coach dad Alex drove taxis?

Updated: Feb 03, 2020, 11:13 IST | AFP | Melbourne

Russian-born Alex, an unassuming, grey-haired man with a receding hairline, introduced Sofia to tennis, brought her up around the game and pushed her to achieve the extraordinary - crowned by her victory at the Australian Open on Saturday

USA's Sofia Kenin and her father Alex hold the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on the Yarra River a day after she won the Australian Open in Melbourne. Pic/AP, PTI
USA's Sofia Kenin and her father Alex hold the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on the Yarra River a day after she won the Australian Open in Melbourne. Pic/AP, PTI

Melbourne: It wasn't so long ago that Sofia Kenin's father was driving New York taxis and spoke English so poorly that he didn't even know where he was supposed to be going. These days Alex Kenin, despite starting with close to zero tennis knowledge, is coaching a Grand Slam champion. Russian-born Alex, an unassuming, grey-haired man with a receding hairline, introduced Sofia to tennis, brought her up around the game and pushed her to achieve the extraordinary — crowned by her victory at the Australian Open on Saturday.

Sofia said her "crazy smart" father had no prior experience of the game but simply picked it up by observing those around him. "He's seen how all the other coaches have been coaching their players, but he knows everything," Sofia said, after stunning Garbine Muguruza in her first Grand Slam final.

Papa does preach

"He knows what he's talking about, he really knows it and he comes up with the right plans, the right strategies." If Sofia's achievement is remarkable, it owes a great deal to her father, who was ever-present courtside during her increasingly impressive run through the Melbourne women's draw. Teenage prodigy Coco Gauff, World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and, in the final, two-time Major-winner Muguruza all fell victim to tough-as-boots Sofia, who was following strategies drawn up by her wily father. He joins a long list of tennis dads who have produced champions, including Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena, Mike Agassi (Andre) and Yuri Sharapova (Maria). But unlike some other fathers, whose influence have been negative, Alex and Sofia, 21, remain close and affectionate.

"I really have him to thank. We've been dreaming about this—it's a dream come true. He has told me a lot of positive things. He knows exactly what he's talking about. Though I don't like to admit it sometimes, to tell him he's right... he really works hard. We can share this forever," Sofia said. Alex arrived in New York from what was then the Soviet Union in 1987 with his wife, Lena, and a few hundred dollars in his pocket.

He drove a taxi by night and went to English and computer school during the day. "I had to work at night, go to school in the morning. Driving in New York, speaking English on the [taxi] radio. I had no idea what they were saying. But it's amazing the things you do to survive. Sofia knows and I think it made her tough," said Alex.

Sofia's height issue

Sofia clearly had talent from a young age, but they remained outsiders and making it on the tennis circuit was tough. Sofia explained: "People overlooked me. I wasn't the tallest kid when I was little. People said, 'What are you talking about? She's so small. What are you doing? This is a joke'. We didn't have the best things said about me but my dad's been there. He believed in me, didn't listen to that. He could have easily said, okay, and I could have done something [else]."

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