With the Credit One Bank Invitational in South Carolina playing catch-up on Thursday after rain disrupted the schedule on the first two days, Madison Keys, the captain of Team Kindness, returned to the scene of her 2019 Charleston WTA triumph with a hard-fought win over Carline Dolehide, 6-1 6-7(6) [10-4], to even things up against Team Peace.
That was up and down. That was... I haven't played a match in a really long time. I was definitely really nervous, and that obviously showed. But I was really happy to get a win and a point for my team. All in all, things to work on, but not too bad for a first match. Madison Keys
Once Wednesday’s suspended 1-point match-ups were completed, the 16 player field competed for double the reward, and after 11 hours of play without a drop of rain, Team Peace leads overnight, 8-6, thanks to the doubles prowess of its captain Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
With strict social distancing protocols in place, the two teams are prepping for the return of the WTA Tour in August after the coronavirus shutdown.
The exhibition event may be unsanctioned, but the players are taking it seriously.
Keys, ranked 13 in the world, admitted she was nervous in her first match since a third-round exit at the Australian Open in January after taking 4 match points to pull off her tight victory over the 134th-ranked Dolehide.
“That was up and down,” Keys admitted after tapping rackets with Dolehide at the net. “That was — I haven’t played a match in a really long time.
“I was definitely really nervous, and that obviously showed. But I was really happy to get a win and a point for my team.
“All in all, things to work on, but not too bad for a first match.”
Keys is one of three top-20 players taking part in the tournament, along with 4th-ranked Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, and No 19 Alison Riske.
After squandering a break at 4-3 in the second set and, later, a 5-1 advantage and 2 match points at 6-4 in the breaker, Keys recovered well enough in the match tiebreak with much cleaner striking from the baseline to blast past her countrywoman.
“She started making a lot more balls and making me play. On my part, I slowed down my feet and was kind of waiting for her to give me points and then she wasn’t,” Keys assessed. “I started getting frustrated and I think that snowballed a little bit.
“I was really happy to bounce back after that second set tiebreaker. All in all, things to work on but not too bad for a first match.”
Singles catch-up complete, and with Team Peace ahead 3-2 to begin Day 3’s scheduled play, Jennifer Brady brushed past former World No1 Victoria Azarenka, 6-3 6-2, to stretch the lead, before Team Kindness’ Sloane Stephens & Amanda Anisimova beat Eugenie Bouchard & Danielle Collins, 4-6 7-6(5) 10-7, in a doubles match that was also held over from Wednesday night.
Brady provided some early padding for Team Peace by turning in an impressive effort against Azarenka to claim the day’s opening point.
In the doubles clash carried over from the previous night, Anisimova & Stephens closed the gap back to one for the Keys-led Team Kindness.
The Americans trailed, 6-4 0-1, against Bouchard & Collins, and despite failing to consolidate a break lead on 4 occasions in the second set, they edged ahead to prevail, 4-6 7-6(5) [10-7].
Later in the afternoon, Team Kindness’ Alison Riske overcame a determined effort from local favourite and former French Open junior runner-up Emma Navarro in another thrilling three-setter between a young American and a tour veteran, 7-6(5) 4-6 [10-7].
The first match worth 2 points turned out to be Team Kindness’ third win in a row, although Riske had to go the distance against the young rising talent, who is ranked No 504 against her No 19.
Navarro, who has lived in Charleston for nearly a decade, shook off the close first-set loss to hang in and eventually forced a 10-point match tiebreak in which Riske ran out to a 5-1 lead, then lost the next 5 points but recovered in time to prevent a major upset.
“I’ve been training with Emma leading up to the tournament,” said Riske after her 7-6(5) 4-6 [10-7] win. “The world better watch out for her—she’s coming. I personally think she’s the real deal.”
Another rising star is Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, who followed on the green-clay court against compatriot Team Peace’s Eugenie Bouchard.
Down 4-1 in the first set, Bouchard reeled off 5 consecutive games but her 6-4 6-3 win wasn’t as straightforward as it sounds, with the first set alone lasting an hour.
The win levelled the competition at 6-6, with doubles to play and 2 valuable points up for grabs.
Team Peace may look to be the weaker side on paper, but captain Mattek-Sands is a five-time Grand Slam doubles champion who is gambling on winning matches on the final day which will be only doubles and, in Sofia Kenin, she has her ideal doubles partner, with the two having played 4 tournaments in 2020 before the tours shut down.
In the final match to be played late on Thursday evening, the pair picked up right where they left off in Charleston, overcoming extremely talented opposition in Keys & Azarenka.
Mattek-Sands & Kenin won the first set 6-2 and, despite a 5-game rut in the second set, won the match tiebreaker, 10-7.
“The best combination for Bethanie is a very solid base-liner,” observed Lindsay Davenport on The Tennis Channel, “And Kenin is just that.”
During one rally in the opening set, the Australian Open champion traded backhands with Azarenka, with Mattek-Sands calmly waiting for the right time to poach.
With Vika unable to break Kenin down, Mattek-Sands did exactly as she planned, and Team Kindness soon found itself down by another break.
The victory at 1.15am concluded a day in which the teams split the 6 matches, but Team Peace won 2 of the 3 two-pointers to lead 8-6.
The length of the day’s matches, combined with the packed schedule, forced the postponement of the Ajla Tomljanovic (Team Peace) & Monica Puig (Team Kindness) match, originally scheduled to end the day’s play.