Coach? Motivator? Kenin's dad moves, Paris match changes

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Alexander Kenin, father of Sofia Kenin of the U.S., right, and Emmanuel Planque, coach of France's Fiona Ferro, left, watch the fourth round match of the French Open tennis tournament between Kenin and Ferro at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

PARIS – After Sofia Kenin dropped the opening set in the French Open’s fourth round Monday, her father, Alexander, who is also her coach, switched seats in the stands, plopping himself down right next to her opponent’s coach.

So much for social distancing amid a pandemic.

Whether the elder Kenin’s move, so noticeable in the sea of empty beige seats at Court Philippe Chatrier, actually influenced the outcome can’t be known with any certainty — the chair umpire did give a warning for coaching, which isn’t allowed during Grand Slam matches; the 2020 Australian Open champion said her dad merely helped by “motivating” — things did turn around soon afterward.

Never before a quarterfinalist at any tour-level clay-court tournament, Kenin reached that stage at Roland Garros by making a key adjustment, taking balls sooner and leaving Fiona Ferro less time to operate in the 21-year-old American’s 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory over the last player from France in either singles bracket.

“First of all, I mean, I don’t know, like, why HER coach sat in that section,” said Kenin, who is seeded No. 4, while the 49th-ranked Ferro was unseeded.

“On the right, it’s (for) the higher seed. I would imagine that he would be sitting on the other side. I didn’t really understand why he was sitting there,” the 21-year-old American said, shrugging. “Yeah, I mean, my dad sat there. He tried to help me. ... I mean, he just sat there — and it worked. There’s nothing much to discuss about that.”

As for Emmanuel Planque, Ferro’s coach?

“At the end of the match,” Ferro said with a laugh, “he told me, ‘You didn’t manage to get rid of Sofia, but I couldn’t get rid of her dad.’”