“I looked up to her my whole career — even when I wasn’t on tour as one of the pros. I obviously watched her great victories at slams and was always cheering for her.”
While facing one of her childhood idols was initially daunting, Kenin emerged from the pair’s only meeting on tour – at the French Open in 2019 – with a straight-sets win.
Kenin also claimed one of the three available grand slam titles last year that Williams, 39, is desperately chasing in her attempt to join Margaret Court on 24 total major wins.
The greatest female player of the modern era may no longer dominate majors like she used to but as the reigning Australian Open champion, Kenin remains wary of the threat the veteran poses.
“It is very special to be ahead [of Williams on the rankings] but I still respect her and know she is a great player,” Kenin said. “She’s Serena for a reason. I still can’t get her serve even though I know how she serves. That’s something — no one can compete with her on that.”
Kenin has returned to Melbourne with one goal: emulating the stranglehold Novak Djokovic has on the Australian Open.
Djokovic famously gave Kenin some pre-final advice before she beat Garbine Muguruza to claim her first major and while his off-court comments have been controversial in the past 12 months, the 22-year-old couldn’t think of a better on-court role model.
“Last year, he talked to me before (matches) a few times. The advice he gave me before the final — I won’t get into details — but he told me to live in the moment, he gave me some tips on how to play (in the final). Just for him to help me out was really nice,” Kenin said.
“I really respect Novak Djokovic. He’s a great athlete, great player, great person. I think it’s really incredible what he’s doing, how he’s playing, how he’s in such great form.
“He knows how to handle the top pressure, the tough moments. He is where he is and I would love to have that but I have to work on that.
“I obviously feel like I have some more to do mentally to get myself [on that level]. I have nothing bad to say about Novak. He’s perfect. If I could do it like that, that would be great. And I will work to get there.”