New match-up klaxon… Madison Keys and Caroline Wozniacki will go head-to-head for the first time on the WTA tour in a blockbuster fourth rounder set for Sunday at Flushing Meadows.
For the second time this week, Keys was on the brink of going out of the US Open. In one of, if not her greatest ever escape, Keys clawed her way back from 1-5 down in the decider to edge Naomi Osaka, 7-5 4-6 7-6(3) in a thrilling conclusion on Arthur Ashe stadium.
Keys nicked a super tight opener, recovering from an early 0-2 deficit and breaking for 7-5 thanks to two errors from Osaka and a forceful return that forced the Japanese player into the net. The second set was heading to the tiebreak when Keys inexplicably lost her serve at 4-4 from *40-0 up with a series of nervy points. Osaka served out the set with Keys going for more and more on return and missing. The momentum had swung as Osaka continued to look assured in her game as Keys struggled for net clearance on many of her strokes.
A turning point though came with Keys serving at 1-5 as she charged the net with a slight air of desperation but full commitment too, producing some inspired volleys. A teary Osaka twice failed to serve out the match at *5-2 and *5-4; she lost her way emotionally after a wild and wayward volley at *5-4 *30-30. The Japanese player managed to hang on for the tiebreak with Keys once again missing big on return. Osaka led 2-1 in the third set tiebreak, but Keys won six of the last seven points, finally taking advantage of Osaka’s labouring second serve. It was a huge win for Keys; the performance had its flaws, but the battling nature of the win shone bright like a beacon.
Wozniacki backed up her second round upset win over Svetlana Kuznetsova with an impressive 6-3 6-1 victory over Monica Niculescu. It was Wozniacki’s seventh (!) consecutive straight sets victory over Niculescu and she has yet to drop more than four games in any of the 14 sets they have played. Wozniacki handles the Niculescu forehand slice well and kept getting balls back in play. There was an aggressive bite though to Wozniacki’s game, particularly on the forehand side. Niculescu’s tactics of playing drop shots and trying to come forward were sound but she missed too much – a big factor to this result was her growing unforced error count that finished at 29 compared to Wozniacki’s 16.
Interesting stat: Madison Keys is winning a lot of tennis matches. Since the start of the Rome, the American player has compiled a 28-6 W-L record and a 9-2 W-L record in three setters.
Final thoughts: Since returning to the tour during the grass court season, Wozniacki’s form has actually been fair. A loss to Jelena Ostapenko in New Haven was somewhat of an outlier as she almost seemed to check out by the end of that match. After a gutsy first round win over Taylor Townsend, Wozniacki produced her best performance of the year to defeat Kuznetsova in straights. It was an aggressive display from Woz, a reminder of what she is capable of and reminiscent of what she produced during the second half of 2014. Her movement has looked much more effective this week and I wonder if she has a little bit more confidence to play her game now that the injuries (touch wood) have subsided and she appears fully fit and healthy.
There are still areas of Keys’s game that need improvement but she is developing herself as one of the best match players on tour, something that Wozniacki had herself as one of the key assets on her tennis CV when she was world number one. Wins over Riske and Osaka will have no doubt given Keys confidence and room to breathe having been so close to exiting the tournament.
This will be a classic power striker vs. counter puncher match-up… if Keys can’t keep her error-count down then Wozniacki likely prevails. On the other hand, if Wozniacki is passive and retreats, and Keys has a day where she’s finding the lines then the American takes it. Keys was my finalist pre-draw but from the past two performances and with her desire to be more positive on a court where she has has tremendous success, i’m leaning towards Woz in 3.