The first of the semi-finals at the China Open in Beijing has huge ramifications for not only the Race to Singapore but also the rankings as Madison Keys and Johanna Konta go head-to-head for the first time since 2010.
Keys booked her place in the semi-finals of a Premier Mandatory tournament for the first time in her career with a rip-roaring 6-3 6-7(2) 7-6(5) victory over Petra Kvitova in two hours and 55 minutes. Keys snapped Kvitova’s glittering eight match winning streak through Asia, holding her nerve at the very end – this one really could have swung either way. And for pretty much the entire match, Keys was always ahead on the scoreboard. Kvitova couldn’t take her chances on return in the first set as Keys hit just ONE unforced error (!!!) in the first set. I don’t expect to see that stat ever again…
Kvitova looked a step slow in her movement and wasn’t as potent on return as she has been in recent matches although that had something to do with the Keys serve. The American player was three times up a break in the second set but Kvitova showed a lot of heart to force the tiebreak. Keys failed to serve out the match at 6-3 *6-5 with Kvitova breaking back on a fierce backhand return winner. Keys played a poor tiebreak with Kvitova drawing away to win the second set after one of the points of the match up 3-1 in the tiebreak; the pair duked it out from the back of the court with some monstrous groundstrokes before Kvitova reacted well to a drop shot and fired a winner cross-court.
After both Kvitova and Keys won a trio of games at the start of the third set, Keys secured a pair of plucky holds to stay in front – she saved three break points at 3-3 and four at 4-4 including recovering a *0-40 deficit. Into a third set tiebreak and with the match finely balanced on a tightrope at 5-5, Keys made her move with a bold backhand and a big serve. The grey screen on the TV coverage came just at the wrong time! Considering the circumstances, it was one of Keys’s best wins of the year.
In a baffling match that followed, Konta scored a virtual double bagel, coming from 0-4 down in the first set against Zhang Shuai to win, 6-4 6-0. It was an odd result because a lot of games in the first set were close. Zhang reeled off 13 consecutive points to claim the double break lead in the opener but Konta, slowly but surely, shored up her game and placed more first serves in.
The Brit came up trumps on the big points – she hit a return winner to break and get back on level terms at 3-4 and then saved a break point in the next game with a big first serve. Zhang even had a game point at 4-4 but Konta rallied once more and broke with a forehand winner. Zhang won just 11 points in the second set as Konta booked a KK meeting with Keys in the semi-finals.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Keys won with a 7-5 first set retirement win over Konta. A lot has changed since then…
Interesting stat: As alluded to above, this is a hugeeee match. A win for Konta will see her crack the top ten for the first time in her career and also boost her chances of qualifying for Singapore. For Keys, her position for the WTA Finals is looking decent and the title in Beijing will officially confirm her place in Singapore. It was announced on Friday that Keys has taken a late wildcard into Linz, while Konta is set to play Hong Kong.
Final thoughts: As has become accustomed with Keys, she’s been streaky through much of Beijing, although she produced a lot of big-shot tennis in her quarter-final against Kvitova. The way that Konta managed to fight back from 0-4 down in the first set against Zhang on Friday speaks volumes about the belief that she has in herself and her game right now. I wonder if the prospect of cracking the top ten will be on the mind for Konta although she’s shown no negative signs with the potential of qualifying for Singapore.
I think this will be a close match – Keys’s game can be overbearing, even when she’s missing a lot of time, so the fact they haven’t played recently could be a shock to the system early on for Konta. Both have toughed out big wins this week but Keys especially has dug herself out of some rather precarious situations. I wonder whether Konta will be able to mix up the play enough to prevent Keys from finding a rhythm on her serve and forehand…