CHARLESTON, SC, USA -- Team Peace finished Saturday with their biggest lead of the week, as they triumphed in two of the three completed matches on the fifth and penultimate day of the Credit One Bank Invitational on the green clay courts in Charleston, South Carolina.
Saturday was the first day where each victory at the non-WTA exhibition event was worth three points, and Team Kindness captain Madison Keys gave her squad a sterling start to the day, pulling them within one point of Team Peace after a 6-3, 5-7, [10-2] win over reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.
However, Team Peace completed the day with two consecutive sturdy victories. Caroline Dolehide and Ajla Tomljanovic gritted out a 7-6(5), 7-6(2) win over Leylah Fernandez and Monica Puig, which was succeeded by Jennifer Brady's powerful 6-2, 7-6(4) defeat of 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens.
Right after Brady gave Team Peace a commanding 20-13 lead in the overall standings, rain began to pour down, and the final match of the day, between Team Peace captain Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Team Kindness's Shelby Rogers, was postponed to Sunday.
Each victory on the competition's final day will also be worth three points for the winning team, meaning Team Kindness could still overcome the deficit and blast their way to victory.
In the day's first tilt, between two of the top three-ranked Americans, a backhand winner square on the baseline gave Keys an early break for 2-0, and the 2017 US Open finalist held that lead for the remainder of the opening frame. Keys staved off two break points to hold for 5-2, eventually closing out the opener with an ace.
Keys continued her roll in the early stages of the second set, cracking fiery groundstrokes en route to a overwhelming 4-0 lead. However, World No.4 Kenin stayed steady, clawing one break back at 4-1, then erasing a match point for Keys as she squeaked out a hold for 5-4.
With Keys serving for the match in the next game, Kenin rose up, using strong returns to earn another break and level the set at 5-5. Kenin continued to excel, fending off a break point with a backhand passing winner to hold for 6-5. Kenin ended up winning a fourth consecutive game to break once more and eke out the second set, forcing a decisive match tiebreak.
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Keys regrouped in the 10-point breaker, which she dominated from the start. The World No.13 fired a forehand winner down the line to open up a 4-1 lead, and she rolled from there, reaching her second match point after slamming an ace for 9-2. A final Kenin forehand flew long on that point, giving Keys the close victory.
“When you play someone like [Kenin], you know that she’s going to up her level, especially when it matters," Keys said on court, after the match. "She definitely did that at the end of the second set, and a few loose points from me."
"But I thought I had a pretty clean tiebreaker for the third, and happy to get three points on the board," Keys continued, as she put her Team Kindness squad just one point behind at 14-13.
After that win for Team Kindness, though, Team Peace took control of the day. Their run started with the doubles match, where Dolehide and Tomljanovic grinded out two tough sets, which included an incredible comeback from the brink in the first set.
At 5-3 in the opening frame, Fernandez and Puig held three set points on Dolehide's serve. However, aggressive play by Dolehide and Tomljanovic allowed the American-Australian pair to eke out a hold for 5-4, which was punctuated by a volley winner by Tomljanovic on deciding point.
Dolehide and Tomljanovic then broke Puig when the Canadian-Puerto Rican duo had a chance to close out the set, leveling the opener at 5-5. The teams advanced to the tiebreak, where Dolehide and Tomljanovic built a 6-2 lead before converting their fourth set point with a winning Dolehide putaway in the forecourt.
After a failed attempt to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set, Dolehide and Tomljanovic were forced into another breaker. However, the American-Australian tandem dominated in their second straight tiebreak, polishing off the victory on their first match point to reclaim the four-point lead for Team Peace, 17-13.
World No.48 Brady then used an impressive display of all-court power to lead Team Peace to the 20-13 lead at day's end before the rain came back to Charleston for the third day this week.
Brady had a stellar rise at the start of this season, earning the first two Top 10 wins of her career over World No.1 Ashleigh Barty in Brisbane and Elina Svitolina in Dubai. Her strong form reappeared against Stephens, as Brady knocked off aces to close out her first two service games of the match, and broke her opponent three times in the opener.
An early exchange of breaks would not settle the second set quickly, as Stephens matched Brady shot for shot during that timeframe. The pair had to move to a tiebreak, where the Brady power game resurged. An error-forcing forehand by Brady gave her a 6-2 lead and four match points; Stephens saved two, but on the third, Brady slammed a backhand winner down the line to notch the crucial win.
“I thought it was a pretty good match overall," Brady said in her on-court post-match interview. "I think in the beginning of the second set, maybe I backed off a little bit, and Sloane was being more aggressive. But I’m happy I got the win."
"It’s not so much pressure, I kind of embrace it, because I played two years of college tennis," Brady said of the team exhibition. "I know what it’s like to play for somebody other than yourself. I’m really happy that it’s a team event here, I think it’s made it a lot more fun, and a lot more enjoyable.”