Fixture: (1) Sofia Kenin vs Zhaoxuan Yang
Date: 7 January 2021
Tournament: Abu Dhabi WTA Women's Tennis Open
Round: Round of 64 (First round)
Venue: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Category: WTA 500
Prize money: $565,530
Live telecast: USA - ESPN / Tennis Channel
Sofia Kenin vs Zhaoxuan Yang preview
Reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin kick-starts her 2021 season with a face-off against Chinese qualifier Zhaoxuan Yang at the Abu Dhabi Open on Thursday.
In a breakthrough 2020 season, the 22-year-old American proved her maturity and versatility, establishing herself as one of the best young stars in the world. The Moscow-born Kenin started in thunderous fashion by winning her maiden Grand Slam in Melbourne. She followed up that success with another title at Lyon before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the tour to a grinding halt.
It did take Kenin a few tournaments to find her groove again when the tour resumed. But after rediscovering her touch, the World No. 4 impressed everyone at Roland Garros with her mental toughness.
Having suffered an ignominious defeat at the hands of Victoria Azarenka in Rome, the American bounced back to reach the final in Paris. Her sheer fighting spirit was on display as Kenin played four three-setters during her run in the French capital.
She would be looking to draw inspiration from that performance as she begins a brand new season.
Kenin's first-round opponent, Zhaoxuan Yang, is primarily a doubles player who is ranked 55th in doubles and 789th in singles. Yang has come through the qualifying rounds at this tournament.
She needed three sets to subdue the 282nd-ranked Anna Danilina in the first round of qualifying, and cruised to victory in the final round against World No. 278 Despina Papamichail.
Yang did not play singles the entire season last year, and her best performance in doubles was a semifinal showing at Brisbane.
Sofia Kenin vs Zhaoxuan Yang head-to-head
Sofia Kenin holds a 1-0 head-to-head record over Zhaoxuan Yang, having beaten the Chinese in their only meeting so far. That was at Wuhan in 2018, where the American ran away to a commanding 6-1, 6-2 win.
Sofia Kenin vs Zhaoxuan Yang prediction
With her ranking and credentials, Sofia Kenin is clearly overmatched for Zhaoxuan Yang. But given that the American ended her season in early October with the French Open, rust could be an issue. Yang, meanwhile, has already got a feel of the courts, having played in qualifying.
Still, that shouldn't be much of a concern for Kenin against a player who has a dismal 136-132 win-loss record in singles.
Prediction: Sofia Kenin to win in straight sets.