Udayavni Special

Meet Alex, the taxi driver who became Grand Slam-winning coach


PTI, Feb 2, 2020, 3:40 PM IST

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 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.

“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 number one 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 has been resented or even 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 for us,” Sofia said. “He’s told me a lot of positive things. He knows exactly what he’s talking about.

“Even though I don’t like to admit it sometimes, to tell him he’s right. Yeah, he really works hard. Just thank you to him. We can share this forever,” she added.

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