Heading into Saturday, Team Kindness trailed Team Peace 14-10 and, with matches worth 3 points, a quick start was imperative for captain Madison Keys’ squad, as the American led from the front, playing first and defeating not just any opponent, but Sofia Kenin, this year’s Australian Open champion.
The points that I earlier lost in the second set, they weren’t necessarily bad points," she reflected. "[I] kind of gave myself a little bit of grace knowing that I haven’t had those big moments under my belt right now, but making sure I know that these matches come in handy later when the tour comes back. Madison Keys
Keys came through another tense finish, letting one match point slip before finishing off Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, 6-3 5-7 [10-2] in the Credit One Bank Invitational in Charleston, South Carolina.
She should have been defending her 2019 Charleston WTA title earlier this year but the coronavirus pandemic halted play on the women’s tour in March and unofficial competition has only just resumed.
Keys said her tight finishes in the 16-player team event, being played with strict social distancing protocols and with no spectators, will stand her in good stead when the WTA Tour starts up again in Palermo on 3 August.
“I know that these matches come in handy later, once the tour comes back and (I’m) just using that as an opportunity and not being too hard on myself,” she said.
Keys was up two breaks at 4-0 in the second set, and held a match point against Kenin’s serve in the 9th game that she couldn’t convert.
Dropping her next 2 service games meant she had to regroup in the match tiebreak.
The match pitted the top-ranked players to feature in the team event, which is being played on the same green clay courts that host the annual WTA Charleston event.
Kenin, who won her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, is ranked 4th in the world, while Keys is ranked 13th.
Keys’ serve and forehand were clicking, as was her backhand, both as a rally shot to keep Kenin from moving forward, and as a point-ending weapon.
After a bevy of winners, Keys took a seemingly unassailable 6-3, 4-0 lead, had a point for 5-0, and earned a match point, but compatriot Kenin, one of tennis’ brightest prospects of 2020, shook it all off, and remarkably won the second set 7-5.
“When you play someone like Sonya, you know she’s going to up her level, especially when it matters,” said Keys. “She definitely did that at the end of the second set.
“A few of those points were me, but I thought I had a pretty clean tiebreaker.”
Keys remained calm, and found way to turn a calamity into an opportunity, running through the breaker, 10-2.
“The points that I earlier lost in the second set, they weren’t necessarily bad points,” she reflected. “[I] kind of gave myself a little bit of grace knowing that I haven’t had those big moments under my belt right now, but making sure I know that these matches come in handy later when the tour comes back.”
It was the only way Keys could approach the situation, but it didn’t hurt that the pressure-packed moment, even at a non-tour event, came in Charleston.
Keys, whose foundation is called ‘Kindness Wins’, feels at home in Charleston and, appropriately, at this week’s Credit One Bank Invitational, she is the captain of Team Kindness.
Before the Volvo Car Open was cancelled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, Keys visited Meeting Street Academy in Charleston to spread her message to elementary school students, even giving tennis lessons to youngsters on the playground.
Keys’ victory cut Team Peace’s lead to 14-13 over her own Team Kindness and kept them in the running.
After that win for Kindness, though, Peace took control of the day.
Their run started with the doubles match, where Caroline Dolehide & Alja Tomljanovic ground out 2 tough sets, which included an incredible comeback from the brink in the first.
At 5-3 in the opening frame, Leylah Fernandez & Monica Puig held 3 set points on Dolehide’s serve, but the Peace pair’s aggressive play eked out a hold for 5-4, punctuated by a volley winner by Tomljanovic on deciding point.
Dolehide & Tomljanovic then broke Puig when the Canadian-Puerto Rican duo had a chance to close out the set, levelling the opener at 5-5.
The teams advanced to the tiebreak, where Dolehide & Tomljanovic built a 6-2 lead before converting their 4th set point with a winning Dolehide put-away in the forecourt.
After a failed attempt to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, Dolehide & Tomljanovic were forced into another breaker.
The American-Australian tandem dominated it, polishing off the victory on their 1st match point to reclaim the 4-point lead for Team Peace, 17-13.
Jennifer Brady then gave Team Peace a commanding 20-13 lead in the overall standings, before rain began to pour down again, and the final match of the day, between Team Peace captain Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Team Kindness’s Shelby Rogers, was postponed to Sunday.
Mattek-Sands’ selection of Brady to Team Peace has been a masterstroke, as the World No 48 is 3-0 this week in Charleston, with her second singles victory extending her side’s lead to 20-13.
If Mattek-Sands, who is 2-0 in Charleston, defeats Rogers, Team Kindness will need to win all 4 doubles matches to prevail, but if Rogers wins on Sunday, Team Kindness must win 3 of the 4 doubles matches.
Brady’s all-court power helped the American break Stephens 3 times in the opening set, firing off aces in her first 2 service games.
An early exchange of breaks helped Stephens match Brady shot for shot during that timeframe but as they moved towards a tiebreak, Brady’s power game resurged.
An error-forcing forehand gave her a 6-2 lead and 4 match points and although Stephens saved 2, Brady slammed a backhand winner down the line on the 3rd to notch up the crucial win.
“I thought it was a pretty good match overall,” Brady said in her on-court post-match interview. “I think in the beginning of the second set, maybe I backed off a little bit, and Sloane was being more aggressive. But I’m happy I got the win.”
when asked about the feeling of playing for a team, Brady added: “It’s not so much pressure.
“I kind of embrace it. I played two years of college tennis. I know what it’s like to play for somebody other than yourself.
“I’m really happy that it’s a team event here, I think it’s made it a lot more fun, and a lot more enjoyable.”
On Sunday, all 16 players will take part in 4 doubles matches to determine the winner of this team event, with each worth 3 points.