The final of the Western & Southern Open proved to be a testing affair but it was Madison Keys, recovering from deficits in both sets, who stole the honours and sealed her second title of the year by ending Svetlana Kuznetsova’s dream run in Cincinnati, 7-5 7-6(5).
I played some really, really great players from Round 1 until today. I definitely think I played some of my best tennis consistently this week. Madison Keys
The 34-year old Russian beat 3 WTA top-10 players for the first time in her career at a single tournament on her path to the final, defeating American Sloane Stephens (10) in the third round, Czech Karolina Pliskova (3) in the quarter-finals and then taking out the top seed, Australia’s Ashleigh Barty (2), in the semi-finals.
Unseeded, Kuznetsova reached a WTA final for the first time since winning the Citi Open in Washington last year, but she could not quite shut the door on Keys on Sunday, despite leading 5-3 in both sets.
Keys, the 16th seed, erased both deficits to claim her second trophy of 2019, joining the one she won at the Volvo Car Open in April.
“I think I just really focused in on obviously really important games and was able to make her play a lot of balls. Luckily, I figured out a way to level up the scoreline,” Keys said after the match.
“I think I served really well today, especially in certain pockets.
“I think when I was doing a good job at moving forward and kind of trying to neutralise some of her deep, heavy, spinny shots, I was able to get out in front in the point and play a little bit more offence.
“It’s obviously the biggest title I have ever won, and, I mean, it was a tough draw from the very start.
“I played some really, really great players from Round 1 until today. I definitely think I played some of my best tennis consistently this week.”
It took an hour and 45 minutes to capture her 5th career title, serving 13 aces and improving her head-to-head against the former World No 2 to 4-0 without the loss of a set.
“Her strengths and her weaknesses are the same, but I knew she was probably playing some really good tennis in order to get to this position. It was a completely new match,” Keys said of the Russian.
“I think I was just really calm. I just let myself go out there and play, you know, however I could play that day. I kind of dropped the expectations on myself a little bit.
“I’m obviously really happy and really proud of myself. It’s definitely more of a building block. I want to do well in New York, and I want to have a good end of the season, so taking a lot of positives from this week. Just trying to reel it in a little bit.”
Keys struck 43 winners to 33 unforced errors, and was able to break 3 times out of her 7 break point opportunities, while Kuznetsova totalled 13 winners against 13 unforced, and went just 2-for-7 on break point chances.
The Russian never held a set point in either set despite her opportunities, and she let 3 break points slip away in the 7th game of the first set, which would have seen her lead, 5-2.
“I think I was supposed to be a little bit more aggressive,” Kuznetsova said later. “I think Madison served well, served much better than I did, but still, I had all the chances.
“Sometimes it goes this way, you know. The game is like this,
“I served both times with the wind, and first set I did one easy mistake. Second time she played better, the game, but it was very even match. You know, it could go either way.
“Every time it’s totally different match. Today I felt like not before — before I didn’t feel it, like I had chances. I had chances, everything.
“She hits the ball really good, but I don’t see this pictures I didn’t win against her before. I see it as today’s match. Today we were very even. She was just more aggressive than I was. That’s it.
“Overall, it’s great week. You know, I have been beating great players. I feel great. You know, each match which I played three-setter could go either way. I’m happy I won most of them.
“I’m trying to see positive in everything, it’s more motivation for me for the future. I’m giving developing positive things.
“I want to have day or two rest and just to get ready for the Open. It’s new challenge. That’s it.”
The American won the last 4 games in the first set, breaking in the 10th and 12th games in equal fashion, and also saved a break point at 5-5 in the second to quash Kuznetsova’s chances of winning her first Cincy title.
“I have always loved this tournament. It’s one of my favourite weeks of the year,” Keys said. “To see how many fans came out this week, I feel like every match I played almost every stadium was full.
It was really great that so many people came out to watch.
“I have to keep everything in perspective and keep doing what I did well here.
“Not putting the pressure on myself so that I can go out and play some really good tennis, and that’s what I’m going to focus on. Hopefully in a couple of weeks, we can have a different conversation.
“I’m obviously really happy and really proud of myself. It’s definitely more of a building block. I want to do well in New York, and I want to have a good end of the season, so taking a lot of positives from this week.”
Kuznetsova has stormed back into the top-100 of the WTA rankings to No 62, rising 91 spots as a result of her efforts in Cincinnati, while Keys, the finalist at the 2017 US Open and a pair of Premier 5 events in 2016, Rome and Montreal, rises 8 places to World No 10.
Meanwhile, veteran Czech Lucie Hradecka sealed her 3rd career Western & Southern Open title with a 3rd different partner after a dominant performance alongside Andreja Klepac on Saturday night.
The No 8 seeds sealed their 1st title as a team with a 6-4 6-1 win over Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Demi Schuurs.
“I don’t know – it’s like some magic. I think today we played very well, and Andreja played unbelievable,” the Czech said after the match.
“I really like this tournament here, and I have a lot of memories from the past. I’m so happy that we did it this year as well, and hope we’ll be continuing our level.”
With 4 veteran doubles players on the court, both pairs were battling for their first team titles together, but it was the No 8 seeds who pulled away after they secured the first break of the match in the 7th game of the opener.
Hradecka & Klepac won 9 of the last 11 games from 3-3 in the first set, and broke the No 5 seeds in each of their 4 service games in the second set as Groenefeld & Schuurs dropped to 0-5 in finals this season.