NEW YORK, NY, USA -- The top two finishers at the 2017 US Open had a superb start to the 2020 US Open on Tuesday, as Americans Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens picked up straight-set wins in their first-round matches.
No.7 seed Keys breezed past Timea Babos of Hungary, 6-1, 6-1, in 55 minutes, while No.26 seed Stephens followed with a 76-minute victory over Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania, 6-3, 6-3.
The good friends each posted their career-best Grand Slam performance at the US Open three years ago, where Stephens defeated Keys in a straight-set final. Since then, they have both posted more stellar major results -- Stephens reaching the 2018 French Open final, and Keys making two additional Grand Slam semifinals, including at the 2018 US Open.
Now, the pair comes into New York seeking further glory in their home Grand Slam, and their swift wins on Tuesday were impressive starts for both. Keys will face Spain's Aliona Bolsova in the second round, while Stephens will next meet Olga Govortsova of Belarus.
In her match, Keys never faced a break point as she knocked out World No.101 Babos in less than an hour, extending her lead in their head-to-head to 4-1. The American had 19 winners while Babos, half of the top-seeded doubles team alongside Kristina Mladenovic, was held to just two winners all day.
"I think a win is a win," Keys said, in her post-match press conference. "Obviously to feel like I did a lot of things well is a bonus. I think I returned well. I think I served well. That definitely builds up my confidence."
"At the end of the day, it's just a win," the World No.14 continued. "I need to continue to do that and try to bring that level every day."
Keys regularly came out on top in the rallies in the early going, and after a double fault by Babos on break point, the American was up 3-0. Two routine holds followed, putting Keys ahead 4-1, and the seventh seed clinched a second break after a protracted game ended with a Babos forehand miscue going long.
Serving for the set at 5-1, Keys fell behind 15-30 before recovering, reaching set point after moving forward to slam a midcourt forehand winner. The American slammed her second ace of the opening frame to go ahead by a set after winning 14 out of 15 first-service points.
Babos held to start the second set, but after falling behind 0-30 in the next game, Keys rolled on to victory. A break for 2-1 came the American’s way, and she extended her lead to 4-1 after Babos punched a volley wide.
Keys breezed to a love hold to get to 5-1 again, and reached match point following a wide backhand by Babos. The seventh seed only needed the one shot to close out victory, as she drew a netted forehand from the Hungarian to close out the match.
Stephens had a slightly more difficult time with left-handed Buzarnescu in their first meeting. The former Top 20 player from Romania has suffered numerous injuries throughout her career, including a shoulder injury which kept her out of action for the entirety of 2020 until this event.
Nevertheless, Stephens sealed her spot in the second round, breaking the Romanian five times on the day as she earned just her second match-win of the season. World No.122 Buzarnescu out-winnered the American by 16 to 13, but Stephens stayed much cleaner, hitting 15 unforced errors, while Buzarnescu had 33 miscues.
"I thought I played well tonight," Stephens said in her post-match press conference. "Obviously haven't been playing that great. Still kind of finding my confidence and my rhythm. Just trying to feel myself on the court a little bit better."
"I just kind of felt more like my old self," said the former World No.3. "That's really all I'm really working towards. Obviously it would be amazing to play my best tennis ever, but I know that takes a bit. I'm going to have to just keep working, trying to get back to where I was."
Stephens cruised through the opening half of the first set, using her clever all-court mastery and well-timed service winners to race to a 4-0 lead. After another hold for 5-1, the set seemed all but over as the Buzarnescu errors mounted.
The Romanian, however, had some tricks up her sleeve, firing incredible groundstrokes to grind through a game where she faced two set points, eventually holding for 5-2.
Stephens then reached triple set point in the next game, but she misfired on the first two, and then Buzarnescu passed the American with a volley to erase another. After a total of five set points lost in a two-game stretch, Stephens dropped serve, and Buzarnescu clawed to 5-3 after an error-forcing return winner.
However, the American got more chances in the subsequent game, after a Buzarnescu double fault gave Stephens another opportunity to close out the set. There, Stephens righted the ship, converting her sixth break point after a wide backhand by her opponent.
An exchange of breaks opened the second set before Stephens took command by breaking for a 4-2 lead. This set was much more straightforward, as the 2017 titlist eased to 5-3, where she held at love with a backhand winner to sail into round two.