CHARLESTON, SC, USA - No.8 seed Madison Keys claimed her first career victory over compatriot Sloane Stephens in emphatic style, battling past the former US Open champion in three sets to reach the Volvo Car Open semifinals.
Coming into the matchup against her good friend, Keys hadn’t won a set in her previous three clashes with Stephens, which include wins at the 2017 US Open final and last year’s Roland Garros semifinals.
But Keys flipped the script against Stephens in Charleston on Friday, edging through a tight first set tiebreak and claiming the victory, 7-6(8), 4-6, 6-2 after two hours and 14 minutes.
“I think a lot of the previous encounters I had been trying to do too much,” Keys told press after the match. “[I was] just trusting that I can stay in points and I can stay in rallies. And I don’t have to rush and try to hit a winner off the first ball. I think that was the biggest part from today.”
Keys trailed by a break for most of the first set as Stephens got ahead early at 3-2. She finally found her rhythm to break back at 4-4 and kept pace with Stephens in the four consecutive breaks of serve that followed. Stephens served for the set twice - at 5-4 and again at 6-5 - but both times Keys showed her grit and played steady, measured tennis to break back and keep herself in the contest.
Things got tricky again in the tiebreak as Keys powered her way to a 4-0 lead and Stephens responded emphatically to reel off six points in a row to hold double set point at 6-4. Keys raised her level to save both, and sealed her own set point with a laser inside-out forehand - the first ever set she’s taken off of Stephens.
Stephens didn’t let that stand unanswered, getting ahead to a quick lead at 2-0 in the second. Like in the first set, Stephens had a break lead over Keys multiple times in the set and saw her compatriot fight her way back in it: Keys got them level at 2-2, and broke straight back later in the set to make it 5-4. But this time, Stephens took advantage of an untimely double fault from Keys to claim the second set.
The final set was one way traffic for Keys, who had an answer for everything Stephens threw her way. She reeled off the final four games to open up a double break lead and powered through to claim the match after just over two hours on court.
Keys reserved a subdued celebration for her good friend, and the pair exchanged hugs and smiles at the net. Afterwards, Keys hailed Stephens’ sportsmanship in her post-match press conference.
“It’s always hard to play a friend, so on that side of it you’re obviously not going to be saying ‘come on’ in each others’ faces or anything like that,” she said. “But, I mean, we’ve been friends forever. So if she circles a mark and says it’s out, I’m going to believe her.”
Through to the semifinals for the second year in a row, Keys awaits the winner between Monica Puig and No.11 seed Danielle Collins.
“Honestly, either match is going to be difficult, difficult in different ways,” Keys assessed. “Monica has obviously had some good upsets and good matches this week.
“I haven’t really gotten to see any matches of either of them, so looking forward to seeing her tonight. And Danielle is obviously feisty and a fighter and goes for a lot of shots, so you have to be ready when you have your opportunities.”