PARIS — Serena Williams’s quest for a 24th major title was halted Saturday in the third round of the French Open, where 20-year-old Sofia Kenin, a hard-hitting, Russian-born American, delivered the straight-sets upset.
With power and fighting spirit to rival that of Williams, Kenin ousted the three-time French Open champion, 6-2, 7-5, unfazed by the grandeur of 15,000-seat Court Philippe Chatrier and the credentials of her opponent.
Williams, 37, arrived at the French Open with minimal preparation. Combating a sprained ankle and unspecified left knee injury over the preceding months, she had played only one match on clay and just nine matches on any surface since opening her 2019 campaign at January’s Australian Open.
On the clay courts of Roland Garros, Williams struggled to find the range on her shots in her first-round match but raised her level against her next opponent, needing just 67 minutes to dismiss Japan’s Kurumi Nara.
But Kenin exposed facets of Williams’s game that aren’t currently up to par, particularly her movement and fitness, by blasting passing shots past her and yanking her from side to side.
Moreover, Kenin, who was born three years after Williams turned pro, had little trouble handling Williams’s vaunted serve. And she clearly relished the battle, frequently shouting “Come on!” and, at various points, drawing the crowd’s disapproval by smacking the net post with her racket, kicking the clay and questioning a call.
The 35th-ranked Kenin, who was a baby when her family moved to the United States, started playing tennis at 5, trained in South Florida with coaches Rick Macci and Nick Bollettieri, who worked at various stages with the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, as well as former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova.
Kenin had impressive results as a junior, winning the U.S. Tennis Association’s girls 18 national title at age 16. After reaching the third round of the 2017 U.S. Open at 17, she chose to forgo a college scholarship offer from Miami and turn pro.
With a 24th major, Williams would tie Australia’s Margaret Court for the sport’s record. She’ll get another chance next month on the grass at Wimbledon, where she is a seven-time champion.