No.17 seed Madison Keys returned to the US Open quarterfinals for the first time in five years with a 6-1, 6-3 upset of No.3 seed Jessica Pegula in just 61 minutes.
Keys was previously the runner-up to Sloane Stephens in 2017, and a semifinalist in 2018. She advances to her third career quarterfinal in Flushing Meadows, and 10th overall. The result also marks the first time that Keys, a quarterfinalist at Wimbledon, has made the last eight of consecutive majors since the Australian Open and Roland Garros in 2018.
Pegula had come into the match having won 11 of her past 13 matches in the North American hard-court swing, including a second WTA 1000 title in Montreal. Keys' record over the same period was 6-2, and the 28-year-old was beset by a hip injury that forced her to withdraw from Montreal. Pegula had also won their only previous meeting 6-4, 7-5, in the 2022 San Diego quarterfinals.
However, Keys overpowered her American compatriot to seal her second Top 5 win of 2023 (following her defeat of Caroline Garcia in Dubai), and first at a major since beating Barbora Krejcikova in the 2022 Australian Open quarterfinals.
Keys will bid for a third US Open semifinal against Wimbledon champion and No.9 seed Marketa Vondrousova, who overcame Peyton Stearns 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-2. It will be the first meeting between the pair.
30 - Madison Keys has 30 wins in the US Open, it is the only tournament where she has registered 30 wins amongst all four Grand Slams; her win rate of 73% at the US Open is the best amongst all Majors. Home. #USOpen #USOpen2023 | @usopen @WTA @WTA_insider pic.twitter.com/rdD5JbkJYV— OptaAce (@OptaAce) September 4, 2023
How the match was won: Keys raced out of the blocks, firing first-strike winners from all corners of the court. Her backhand return was particularly devasting, with clean winners from that wing sealing a first break for 2-0, then bringing up a fourth break point for 5-1 -- one which Keys converted to take the set's tightest game.
In total, Keys struck 21 winners to just six from Pegula's racquet. In the second set, she was able to broaden her repertoire in response to Pegula trying to switch up her tactics, coming up with a pinpoint lob in the first game and a series of superb passes.
"I thought Maddie played lights out, serving, returning, hitting the ball so clean," Pegula said. "I mean, she was painting the back of the line. There really wasn't that much I honestly could have done.
"I don't think I played my best, but at the same time she never really gave me a chance much to get back in it. Every time I felt like maybe there was a window, just wasn't happening."
Is another upset brewing!? 😳— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 4, 2023
Madison Keys gets the break in the second. pic.twitter.com/zUm2telbef
Keys exceeding Pegula's winner total is perhaps unsurprising, but another key stat was their equal number of unforced errors -- 19 apiece. Pegula was unable to find her groove on either wing, and nor could she take advantage of her few opportunities to turn the match around. Up a break in the second set at 3-2, Keys threw in her only loose service game of the match. But having levelled at 3-3, Pegula responded with a slew of cheap forehand errors to fall 4-3 behind again.
"I'm so tight I can't hit through the ball at all," she said between points. Two games later, another four forehand errors conceded her serve once again for the match.
Keys on letting go of expectations: "This year I just have been trying honestly not to have any expectations and just go out and play tennis and just focus on that.
"I feel like when I'm doing really well, my goals are much more based around trying to get to the net more or working on adding slices into sets or going more for my second serve. Things like that, where I have full control over those sorts of things instead of trying to have performance-based only [goals].
"So my goals are a lot more trying to focus on what I'm trying to add to my game."
Pegula rues the roof: "I like it when it's faster and it's hot and the ball's kind of skidding through the court. I hit pretty flat. I'm able to change the direction and kind of get the ball to skid on people. When it's kind of sitting up and I can't feel like I can hit through the court, then my ball is landing too short, and my serve is not going through the court, it gets really difficult.
"That's something I'm going to have to figure out because it's been a couple times now where I felt like that. At Wimbledon, the roof closed, it got heavy against Marketa. Australia against Vika, it got really heavy. I felt kind of similar in all those situations."