Blockbuster match-up alert… in a repeat third round from one of the most eventful matches in 2016, Madison Keys will play Naomi Osaka in Indian Wells on Monday.
Keys d. Duque-Mariño, 6-1 7-5
Welcome back, Madison! Playing her first tournament of 2017 since minor wrist injury, Keys enjoyed a straight sets win, overcoming some late wobbles. Keys had looked in cruise control, leading 6-1 5-1*. Notably, Keys’s forehand looked great and she was very successful coming forward, winning everything up at the net.
It took Duque-Mariño until the 13th game (!) to hit her first winner of the match. After a listless display for a set and a half, Duque-Mariño awoke and started to make life difficult for Keys in some tense and tight deuce games. The American was broken for the first time when serving for the match and also lost her first point at the net on break point. The tension was clear and also understandable. Keys talked about it in a post-match interview with Tennis Channel (see below) and experiencing these emotions for the first time in five months.
Keys dropped four games in a row from 5-1 to 5-5, but got the job done in straight sets, winning on her eighth match point with a backhand passing shot winner.
Osaka d. Zhang Shuai, 6-4 6-2
Osaka won back-to-back matches for the first time in 2017, producing a powerful display to overwhelm the number 30 seed. Osaka needed two attempts at serving out the first set but was clearly the better player on this occasion, rushing Zhang Shuai with both power and depth, and with more pop on the serve. There were quite a few errors long, as you’d expect with the power that Osaka possesses, but she played the big points well.
Zhang Shuai had break points in Osaka’s first service game of the second set – Osaka held on and from there on, was in control, winning six of the last seven games. Zhang Shuai was constantly rushed into her shots and couldn’t get enough depth on return, allowing Osaka to strike. The Japanese player hit some stunning forehands, gobbling up anything short.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match, Keys recovered from a 1-5 third set deficit to win a super entertaining match, 7-5 4-6 7-6(3) (more about that match in one of my US Open previews last year). It was a tough one for Osaka who was in tears during the match and was also asked about it in press in Indian Wells yesterday…
Interesting stat: Osaka’s win over Zhang Shuai was the first time that she has won back-to-back matches in 2017.
Final thoughts: There’s such an exciting vibe around this match-up and I think we will be enjoying it for years and years to come. Keys’s game looked great for the most part on Saturday but with respect, it was an ideal opener. The nerves at the end were nothing to worry about in the long-term but more a reminder that Keys is short of match practice. Osaka has had injuries herself this year and failed to build much momentum – that seems to be developing in the desert.
This will be a big match for Osaka after what happened in New York. I’ve always been a big believer that making mistakes is actually OK because you learn from it and then you know how to deal with something better the next time. It’s evident from her comments in press that the loss to Keys was a learning experience and she’s managed to take some positives out of it. As Keys is so early into her comeback and with Osaka beginning to string wins together, I think the Japanese player will take this…