New York | Keys upsets Pegula to meet Vondrousova in Last 8

Labor Day in New York saw the World No 3 and 5 exit the US Open in the Last 16, when Madison Keys defeated Jessica Pegula, and Marketa Vondrousova saw off Peyton Sears during the day, while Aryna Sabalenka dispatched Daria Kasatkina and Qinwen Zheng upset Ons Jabeur in the night sessions.

I thought Maddie played lights out, serving, returning, hitting the ball so clean.," Pegula said later. "I mean, she was painting the back of the line. There really wasn't that much I honestly could have done. "I don't think I played my best, but at the same time she never really gave me a chance much to get back in it. Every time I felt like maybe there was a window, just wasn't happening. Jessica Pegula

28-year old Keys charged into the quarter-finals for the 3rd time in her career with a ruthless 6-1 6-3 win over her good friend and compatriot Pegula, who is the highest-ranked American woman.

“It’s always tough having to play a friend, but we’ve been doing it all our lives,” Keys said. “On court it’s all business, but then we go back to being friends.”

Keys, the 17th seed, has been here before, having made it to the final in 2017, when she lost to Sloane Stephens, but she was considered the underdog against the 3rd-seeded Pegula, a 29-year-old who came into the contest having won 11 of her past 13 matches, and collected the title in Montréal along the way.

It took Keys just 61 minutes to demolish Pegula, who looked tight and was unable to execute off her first serve as Keys bludgeoned winner after winner until she had 21 to her opponent’s 6.

In less than 14 hours, the women’s draw had lost the defending champion and World No 1 Iga Swiatek, who fell to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on Sunday night, and now Pegula, ranked 3, while later Jabeur, the 5th seed, was soon to follow.

Keys also made a quarter-final run at Wimbledon, and has reached back-to-back quarters at Grand Slams for the first time since 2018, when she got to the Last 8 in three of the four major tournaments.

“Having success here those years ago … Jess wasn’t playing at the time, Coco [Gauff] wasn’t playing at the time, so [I] was usually one of the ones that people were talking about,” Keys said. “After all these years playing, it’s, kind of, the point now where I don’t have to be out here anymore.

“I get to be out here,” added Keys, who turned pro on her 14th birthday. “As long as I’m having fun and choose to be out here, then I’m going to continue playing, but, kind of, taking away that extra feeling of, like, ‘I have to do this, and if things go wrong, then what am I going to do?’ has been much better for my mental health.”


Madison Keys (L) took out her friend Jessica Pegula in straight sets under the roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Keys raced out of the blocks, firing first-strike winners from all corners of the court, her backhand return in particularly devastating form.

She struck clean winners from that wing to seal a first break for 2-0, then brought up a 4th break point for 5-1, which she converted to take the set’s tightest game, striking 21 winners to just 6 by Pegula.

The second set saw Keys broaden her repertoire in response to Pegula switching up her tactics, coming up with a pinpoint lob in the first game, and a series of superb passes.

“I thought Maddie played lights out, serving, returning, hitting the ball so clean,” Pegula said later. “I mean, she was painting the back of the line. There really wasn’t that much I honestly could have done.

“I don’t think I played my best, but at the same time she never really gave me a chance much to get back in it. Every time I felt like maybe there was a window, just wasn’t happening.”

While Keys exceeded Pegula’s winner total, they equalled their unforced errors to 19 apiece.

Up a break in the second set at 3-2, Keys threw in her only loose service game of the match, but, having levelled at 3-3, Pegula responded with a slew of forehand errors to fall 4-3 behind again.

“I’m so f**king tight I can’t hit through the ball at all,” Pegula said at the following changeover. Two games later, another 4 forehand errors conceded her serve once again for the match.

The roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium was closed, something that Pegula rued.

“I like it when it’s faster and it’s hot and the ball’s kind of skidding through the court,” she said. “I hit pretty flat. I’m able to change the direction and kind of get the ball to skid on people. When it’s kind of sitting up and I can’t feel like I can hit through the court, then my ball is landing too short, and my serve is not going through the court, it gets really difficult.

“That’s something I’m going to have to figure out because it’s been a couple times now where I felt like that. At Wimbledon, the roof closed, it got heavy against Marketa. Australia against Vika, it got really heavy. I felt kind of similar in all those situations.”

The 29-year old later denied that she had left the court in tears, refuting this to the media.

“Were you guys the ones that tweeted that I cried when I walked off the court?,” Pegula stated. “Weren’t you guys The Tennis Podcast? Someone said I walked off the court in tears. I most definitely was not crying. I’m pretty sure that was from you guys. I don’t know if you tweeted it exactly. I definitely wasn’t crying.

“It just sounded really sad. I definitely wasn’t crying. I just got waxed in like an hour. I got to go play doubles in an hour. I was like, Okay. Anyways…,” she added.

After Pegula’s disapproval, the podcast issued a clarification on X (formerly Twitter), writing: “Jessica Pegula clarified to us just now that she was not crying as she left the court. I was on BBC commentary at the time, saw her touch her eye as she left and also thought she was wiping a tear away, but it was just something in her eye. Wanted to set that straight.”


Marketa Vondrousova's defensive skills were key in getting past Peyton Stearns in 3 sets on Monday afternoon in New York City

© Timothy A Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Meanwhile, Keys meets reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, who is struggling with a sore arm and dropped a set for the first time in the tournament on Monday, but won 6-7(3) 6-3 6-2, against America’s Stearns, the 2022 NCAA champion.

Vondrousova, the left-handed 9th seed, is a low-key 24-year-old who became known en route to her title at the All England Club for her many tattoos and her beloved cat, Frankie.

She also has a deceptively lethal game that offers opponents little energy.

“She’s a crafty player. … Sometimes I’d hit a really good shot, and I thought, ‘That’s not coming back,’ ” Stearns said. “She’d get a racket on it and just chip it in the court.”

21-year old Stearns, whose powerful forehand accounted for Britain’s Katie Boulter in the 3rd-round, won the first set breaker but then could only muster 5 more games.

“She was playing great from the beginning, and I just tried to stay in the game,” said Vondrousova. “She is a very dangerous player, she has a great future ahead of her, and it was a very tough match.

“I’m very happy. I didn’t expect this, after Wimbledon there was a lot of pressure but I’m feeling good and we’ll see what happens next.”

To prepare, Keys plans to practice against a lefty ahead of Wednesday’s match, although she already has hit with Vondrousova herself .

“I think [I’m going to] run so much for everything,” Vondrousova said, looking ahead and smiling. “She’s at home also. She played finals here couple years ago. I feel, like, she feels great here, so it’s going to be a very tough match.”

Keys agrees with that assessment, both about the challenge ahead and the fact that, after all these years, she is back to feeling great in New York.

Later, though, it was Vondrousova who was in tears after having to quit the US Open doubles with an arm injury, ending partner Barbora Strycova’s doubles career, who had announced her retirement earlier this year.

Strycova, a former World No 1 in doubles and a Wimbledon singles semi-finalist, decided to hang up her racket after this year’s US Open, and she had hoped to have one last deep run with her friend and compatriot.

Strycova is still active in the mixed doubles event with her partner Santiago González, and the pair are set to play their quarter-final match against Ena Shibahara & Mate Pavic on Tuesday.


Aryna Sabalenka, who will become the World No 1 next week, maintained her focus to dispatch Daria Kasatkina in 2 sets on Monday night at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows

© Al Bello/Getty Images

At night, the about-to-be-named new World No 1 Sabalenka maintained her focus to dispatch Kasatkina, the 13th seed from Russia, 6-1 6-3, in 75 minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I wanted to decide everything on court,” she lamented after Swiatek’s early US Open exit. “First of all, I mean, honestly, I had no doubt that she’s gonna make it to the final. It was only depending on me, if I will be able to make it to the final.

“And I really wanted to have this battle, and decide everything on court. But I was sad that she lost.

“And I was really afraid that I will be distracted by this news today. So, I was super focused. I didn’t want to lose any point today,” she added.

Her quarter-final opponent is unexpected, as Zheng, the No 23 seed from China, ended the hopes of last year’s runner-up, Jabeur from Tunisia, 6-2 6-4, after 82 minutes at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Illness had left Jabeur struggling to catch her breath at times earlier in the tournament, and she looked exhausted against Zheng.

“I always believe that I’m able to beat everyone if I play the right tennis that I have to play,” said 23rd seed Zheng, who called Monday’s win a ‘break-through’.

“I believe that if I’m really there fighting for every point, I mean, things (are) going to happen.”


Qinwen Zheng (R) upset World No 5 Ons Jabeur in straight sets on Monday night on Louis Armstrong Stadium

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

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