Friday night in the Big Apple ahead of Labor Day on Monday, the all-American annual holiday celebrating the economic and social contributions of workers and the last holiday of the summer, is always special, particularly at the US Open in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
I feel like I played some good points in some big moments when I needed to. Just really happy I got through in two. Madison Keys
This year was no different as two home favourites, Madison Keys and Sofia Kenin, slugged it out in all-American battle under the lights in front of a lively crowd.
Keys, seeded 10, used her dominant serve and a sharp baseline game to overcome the 20th seed, Kenin, 6-3 7-5, in a contest that pitched the ‘veteran’ 24-year old against the 20-year relative newcomer.
The former US Open finalist Keys took down Kenin for the second time in as many tournaments to charge into the second week.
Keys, who claimed the biggest title of her career in Cincinnati at the Western & Southern Open a few weeks ago, saved all 8 of the break points she faced en route to her 9th consecutive match win.
“Luckily I was able to get through it,” Keys told press after the match. “I feel like I played some good points in some big moments when I needed to.
“Just really happy I got through in two.”
Both players came into the 3rd-round clash as two of the most in form players of the summer, with Kenin backing up her French Open stunner over Serena Williams with even better results on the North American hard courts.
She posted back-to-back Premier 5 semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati, taking out two World No1s in Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka along the way.
This was the pair’s second meeting in as many tournaments, with Keys having taken down Kenin in straight sets in the Cincinnati semi-finals en route to the title.
Kenin was keen to avoid that same fate on Ashe, keeping pace with Keys for most of the opening exchanges, but the older American rifled forehands and maintained a strong serve to take an early lead in the first set.
On her first break point at 1-2, she blasted a forehand and drew a Kenin error into the net, then followed up without losing a point on her serve to consolidate the break.
Serving to stay in the set at 2-5, Kenin quickly fell behind love-30 but delivered two good serves and with strong baseline play, the 20-year-old rattled off 3 straight points to force Keys to serve out the first frame.
Three of Keys’ 8 aces in the set, the last, to finish off the game screaming past Kenin at 115 miles per hour, gave Keys the easy hold and the first set.
Kenin sought to flip the script early in the second, as she forced 3 break point chances up 2-1.
Keys’ serve, though, held steady, and a forehand error from Kenin allowed her to close the game after 3 deuce points and put the set even at 2-2.
Both players held strong on serve until a scary moment at 3-4 at the sit-down when Keys called for the doctor and, during the medical timeout, had her blood pressure checked court side, saying she was feeling ‘super nauseous’.
Un-phased when play resumed, Keys quickly held, as did Kenin.
At 5-all in the second set, Keys had a key chance with a break point at 30-40 and a double fault, 1 of Kenin’s 4 for the match, handed her the crucial break.
In the next game, as she sought to serve out the match, Keys quickly went down 0-30 and then faced 2 break points down at 15-40.
On the first, Kenin floated a backhand passing shot just long, while a backhand cross court drifted wide on the second.
Keys’ serve, as it had all night, got her out of trouble as she rocketed 2 big ones that set up winning points for the game and the match.
She had played her signature attacking tennis to keep Kenin pegged back in the rallies, and the No 20 seed will likely rue her missed opportunities, especially in the second set, having held a staggering 8 unconverted break points against Keys, including 6 across Keys’ first 3 service games.
“It was super weird,” Keys said, explaining her medical time out.
“Just kind of in the middle of the first set, all of a sudden started feeling not perfect. The end of the first, wasn’t feeling amazing… Just super nauseous.”
10 aces on a 69-percent first-serve rate, with Keys taking 84 percent of those first-serve points, powered her to the win and had kept Kenin guessing all night.
“This was definitely a test,” Keys assessed.
Addressing the crowd, she added that Arthur Ashe Stadium is one of her favourite places to play and said the support had ‘gotten me through some really tough moments’.
Up next, Keys will continue her US Open campaign in the second week against No 5 Elina Svitolina, who also triumphed against her own countrywoman Dayana Yastremska with the loss of just 2 games.
“It’s going to be tough,” Keys acknowledged. “I’m just going to go back and try to get better.
“Also just look at my match from Australia playing her, see what was working well and what wasn’t. Just do what I can to execute better.”
Keys has reached the quarter-finals or better at 5 of her last 8 Grand Slams, the most consistent second week stretch of any player.
Seeded 5, Elina Svitolina surged into the second week of the US Open for the 3rd straight year in emphatic fashion, knocking out fellow Ukrainian and No 32 seed Dayana Yastremska, 6-2 6-0.
“It was a really solid performance, I thought, for me,” she said after the match. “I didn’t give many unforced errors.
“She’s a good player and can strike the ball very good, so I had to stay really focused from the beginning. For me, was important to stay solid from the baseline, then take my chance, which happened.”
Svitolina moves within one win of completing a boxed set of Grand Slam quarter-final appearances, having reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon earlier this summer, and played decisive tennis to dispatch her teenaged rival after 53 minutes on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
She dominated the 19-year-old in the first professional meeting between the two Ukrainians, who were both born in Odessa.
Svitolina won the first 9 points of the match en route to an early 4-0 lead, and later raced through the second set, where she lost just 6 points.
Yastremska made her stand late in set one, forcing deuce in 2 consecutive return games and holding twice herself, but the 24-year-old’s experience guided her through to seal the set.
“I was very consistent from the baseline and I was serving very well when I had to,” she said on-court after the march. “I think my experience played [a role] tonight.”
The standout stats from the evening encounter were Svitolina’s break-point efficiency, converting on 5 of her 6 opportunities, and Yastremska’s 36 unforced errors, which accounted for more than half of her opponent’s points in the contest.
Despite the one-side scoreline, it was a meeting both women will remember for its greater significance.
“It’s definitely a very special moment for Ukraine,” Svitolina said after the match. “It was a very special match for both of us.”
Svitolina has made it past 3 tricky opponents without dropping a set, conquering Americans Whitney Osuigwe and Venus Williams, while her third-round encounter was the shortest match of the three in just under an hour.
She reached a career-high No 3 in 2017 and while her semi-final run at Wimbledon was a career best at majors, she also reached the Australian Open quarters to start the year.
She now faces No 10-seeded American Madison Keys for a chance to reach her 6th career Grand Slam quarter-final.