ROME, Italy - Former Rome finalist Madison Keys kicked off her 2019 campaign with a solid victory over qualifier Polona Hercog to move into the second round at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
The No.13-seeded American came into the Italian capital riding high after claiming a green clay title at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, and eager to put her first-round exit at Madrid firmly behind her.
She got back to her winning ways in style, firing 25 winners and hitting six aces against Lugano champion Hercog en route to a strong 6-4, 7-6(3) victory.
It was by no means an easy task, as Keys had to battle a determined opponent, as well as the variable conditions in Rome: an unusually cold day with clouds threatening rain overhead and swirling winds plaguing the second set.
“Obviously good to get the win,” Keys told press afterward. “It's always tough playing a first match. Had a couple of match points, played what I would think are not bad points but just missed the last ball.
“But then I thought I did a pretty good job in the tiebreaker just staying ahead, being a little bit more comfortable and relaxed, being able to close it out once I finally got that last match point.”
Keys edged through a tightly contested first set, with very little to separate the two. The pair traded blows from the baseline, and Keys’ powerful serve was firing on all cylinders and keeping her ahead in the rallies.
As a result, she didn’t face a single break point during the first set, keeping all the pressure on Hercog. The Slovenian finally blinked, a messy service game at 5-4 gifting Keys unforced errors galore and the American broke to take the opening set.
Things got a bit more complicated in the second set as Keys’ level dropped - her unforced error count started to climb and her first serve percentage slipped, giving Hercog a lifeline into the match. The pair traded breaks twice, with Hercog breaking early to gain a 3-2 advantage and Keys breaking back to level the score, and later it was the Slovenian who had to break back to make it 5-4.
Keys saw two match points come and go as Hercog battled her way back into the match, and the pair soon marched into a tiebreaker. But Keys, who has yet to lose a tiebreaker in 2019, stayed perfect yet again when it counted most, reeling off the last three points in a row to convert her third match point and claim the victory in Rome.
“It's definitely something I'm working on,” Keys said of her recovery in set two. “I think a lot of my ups and downs come from how I am mentally, handling nerves. I mean, I've talked about it before. It's something I'm still working on.
“That was a big focus today. I think, considering the situation, I did a pretty good job bouncing back, not letting it derail me.”
Up next, the 2016 finalist awaits the winner in the match between Sofia Kenin and Italian wildcard Jasmine Paolini.