Former World No.7 Madison Keys engineered a valiant comeback to defeat No.19 Coco Gauff 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 to advance to the final of the Adelaide International. Keys will face compatriot Alison Riske on Saturday in the first all-American WTA final since 2020 between Serena Williams and Jessica Pegula to win Auckland.
Now ranked No.87, Keys is into her first final since 2020 Brisbane and is bidding to win her first title since 2019 Charleston. The 26-year-old has enjoyed a resurgent week in Adelaide, defeating three seeds in No.2 Elina Svitolina, No.8 Liudmila Samsonova and No.3 Gauff.
The winner speaks: "Coco is a phenomenal player," Keys said. "I knew I was going to have to play some of my best tennis. She's such a good mover that you have to win the point two and three times because she's so good at resetting the point.
"After the first set I think I did a good job of resetting and really being in the moment. Really happy to be in the final."
How Keys came back: The contrast in styles was evident from the outset in this first meeting between the two. The match pitted Keys' formidable baseline power against Gauff's canny defensive skills, and the 17-year-old held the clear advantage early. As Keys struggled to find her range, misfiring on 19 unforced errors in the opening set, Gauff stayed aggressive and steady to take it 6-3 after 34 minutes.
"The biggest thing I was really trying to focus on was just trying to get in patterns that I wanted to play," Keys said. "I felt like I was letting her dictate a little bit too much. Just really trying to push her back off the baseline a little bit more, move her a little bit more, which is tough because she's very good defensively."
As Keys' heavy forehand began to find the court in the second set, the 2017 US Open finalist wrenched back control of the match. Gauff hit six winners off the ground in the first se but none in the second. Keys' return dominated Gauff's second serve and the veteran American sealed the second set in 35 minutes.
Keys kept the pressure on Gauff's service games through the deciding set. As she rolled through her own service games - Keys faced just one break point in the third set - she generated eight break points on Gauff's serve, breaking twice. The teenager remained gutsy, coming back from a break down to level the match at 4-4, but Keys' cumulative return pressure proved too much in the end and she broke for the win after 2 hours and 8 minutes.
This is what it means to Keys: "It means probably a lot more than anyone would even know," Keys said. "It's definitely not my biggest final I've ever been in, but it means a lot after the year that I had. I am just really enjoying tennis again and trying to not act as if every match is the last match that I'll ever play in my life."
"I was getting really caught up in what my ranking meant and winning and losing. All of a sudden it was like this number next to my name on a single website meant more about me than literally anything else in the world. I just got way too in all of that.
"I've kind of just decided to let it go. I told my boyfriend after I lost last week, I was like, 'C'est la vie,' just vibes, we're vibing out here, it's fine, we're good."
Riske advances via walkover
Earlier in the day, No.57 Riske advanced to her first final of the season after Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek was forced to withdraw ahead of their scheduled semifinal due to an abdominal injury.
“I’ve had an amazing two weeks in Adelaide, the tournament has done a fantastic job for all the players," Zidansek said in a statement. "I have played a lot of tennis in the last three days, and I am really sorry that today I won’t be able to play my semifinal, as I am not fit to play my best tennis. I wish the tournament a successful finals day. I look forward to coming back next year.”
This is the second straight withdrawal or retirement Riske received in Adelaide, after Madison Brengle retired at 3-3 in the quarterfinals.
Saturday will be the seventh meeting between Riske and Keys, with Keys winning five of their previous six meetings. Their last meeting came at the 2016 US Open, which Keys won 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 in the first round.
"We've played quite a lot in practice," Keys said. "We both train with each other all the time. It's going to be a tough match. I'm just really happy to start the year on a really great foot."