Keys, Barty Set Up Quarterfinal Showdown At Roland Garros

Ashleigh Barty (photo: FFT/Roland Garros)

PARIS, June 3, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Madison Keys has defined consistency in Grand Slams – even if it doesn’t feel routine to her. Still, she’s reached the quarterfinals in six of her last eight majors. On Monday, in a light drizzle at Roland Garros, the No. 14 seed from the United States was simply too much for unseeded No. 42 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, who just two days earlier took out the World No. 1 and top seed Naomi Osaka to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

Although Siniakova, the doubles World No. 1, came in with an eight match winning streak against American opponents, she was no match for Keys, who won convincingly and easily, 6-2, 6-4, in just 76 minutes on Court Suzanne Lenglen to advance to the quarterfinal round.

“It’s always special and stressful and an experience every single time,” Keys said during her post-match press conference. “It’s definitely something that I’m happy that I’ve gotten through to fourth rounds and quarterfinals a couple of times now. But it never, never feels routine.”

Routine or not, it was a match in which Keys played proactively – controlling the net, winning five of six break points and hitting 26 winners – and she forced Siniakova to be reactive. The Czech mustered only 10 winners while committing 18 unforced errors. Keys out pointed Siniakova 73-51.

Following the match, Siniakova admitted that she was “really under pressure and maybe I was trying to do something that I’m not comfortable. I wasn’t just enough solid for (Keys). She was the one who was dictating the game. She deserved (the win).”

Meanwhile, No. 8 seed Ashleigh Barty entered her fourth-round match against Sofia Kenin without dropping a set in two lifetime matches against the 20-year-old American, both victories. Barty triumphed 6-3, 6-2 on green clay in the first round of Charleston last year and 6-1, 7-6 (2) in the first round of this year’s Fed Cup in February on an indoor hard court. Looking back on her first three rounds – which included straight-set wins over Americans Jessica Pegula and Danielle Collins, and Germany’s Andrea Petkovic – Barty’s experience and level-headedness have served her well throughout the Paris fortnight. And, who can forget the scrappy-but-mature Kenin breaking down in tears after her breakthrough win over three-time French Open champion Serena Williams on Saturday night?

Before a sparse and sleepy crowd that gathered on Day 9 in the confines of rebuilt Court Philippe Chatrier, Barty started quickly against Kenin, suffered a bit of a let down in the middle, then regrouped and finished strong, winning 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 to reach her second straight Grand Slam quarterfinal.

At the outset of the 90-minute match, Barty built a 3-0 advantage thanks to three service aces in the opening game and a quick break of Kenin, which she rode to a 6-3 set win. Then, Kenin recovered nicely in the second set and showed her mental toughness in a crucial moment. During a pivotal nine-minute ninth game, with Kenin ahead 5-3, she saved two break points that would have put Barty back on serve. Instead, Kenin won on her third set-point opportunity to finally break the ice against the cool-but-determined Aussie. However, any momentum Kenin might have gained was short lived.

Barty put her head down and went to work in the final set – breaking Kenin’s serve three straight times and upsetting her rhythm – and, thanks to some timely service aces and sliced backhands, she came through on her second match point for the victory. It was Barty’s 10th win in her last 12 matches – lifting her to No. 5 in the provisional rankings – and she’s won eight of 10 three-set matches this year.

“It was a tough match,” said Kenin during a post-match press conference, “but everything, I’m going to take positive from this week.

“I need to get more experience … just unfortunate things didn’t go the way I wanted to go in the third set.”

Barty amassed 11 service aces, won 76 percent (36 of 47) of her first-serve points, was broken just twice, and hit 25 winners. Kenin finished with 28 winners but they were offset by 29 unforced errors. She was only able to win 32 percent (24 of 73) of her receiving points. Barty outpointed Kenin 86-69.

Kenin praised Barty for her toughness, saying: “She’s a tough player, a great player. She’s had a great year and is playing well. So, there is a reason why she’s ranked very high. … Her serve is really good. I mean she does everything well. She has good hands, the best slice.”

With her victory, Barty became the only player to reach the final eight at both Melbourne and Paris. The Miami Open champion has achieved five quarterfinal or better finishers in 2019. She will face Keys for the fifth time overall (they’re 2-2 in head-to-head) and second on clay. Keys won their first clay-court encounter back in the 2017 French Open.

“It’s going to be a tough one,” said Keys in assessing the matchup with Barty. Both are 8-2 in their last 10 clay-court matches. “I think she’s obviously playing well to make the quarterfinals. I feel like clay actually suits her game really well with her kick serve and slice. It’s something I’m going to have to have a game plan set to be ready for her.”

What they’re saying

Petra Martic was reminded by a reporter after her fourth-round win that two years ago she said she would have a glass of red wine after every win. Is this tradition still ongoing? Her response: “No, I can’t afford it right now. It’s too dehydrating for me. Right now, I need to focus to stay hydrated and rest. But, after this tournament, I’m going to have a few. I promise (smiling).”

What they’re writing

Christopher Clarey, New York Times tennis columnist, from “Future of U.S. Tennis Has Its Roots in Russia,” writes: “Where would American tennis be without immigrant families?

“Just for a start, consider the Samprases, the Agassis and the Changs, whose sons – Pete, Andre and Michael – became Grand Slam champions. But the list is so much longer, the ripple effect so much bigger, and the story, which would make a fine book, is adding a new chapter at this French Open.

“Of the four American women still in contention in Paris, two of them are young and prodigious talents whose parents came to the United States from present-day Russia. Sofia Kenin and Amanda Anisimova grew up being coached primarily by their self-taught fathers in the professional tennis incubator that is South Florida. Both won their first WTA Tour titles this season, and neither should be unseeded at Grand Slam tournaments much longer.”