Keys Regaining Form One Match At A Time

Madison Keys (photo: Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships)

DUBAI/WASHINGTON, March 8, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

While Monday’s completion of the first round of the WTA’s 1000-series Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was peppered with many straight set wins – by the likes of seeded players such as No. 11 Madison Keys, No. 12 Marketa Vondrousova and No. 14 Elena Rybakina as well as those who were trying to reacquaint themselves with tour-level competition like 32nd-ranked Amanda Anisimova – there were others that went the distance. Take the battle between unseeded but pedigreed No. 26 Angelique Kerber and No. 47 Caroline Garcia, for instance.

The afternoon’s featured match between the three-time Grand Slam champion and the former World No. 4 matched a couple of struggling players who are trying to regain their form. After an hour and 37 minutes, it was Garcia who dug deep and overcame being down 1-4 in the final set to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 for her third victory against the German counter-puncher in nine career meetings after Kerber had won their last three meetings, all in straight sets. It marked the first time this year that Garcia had come back to win after losing the first set.

The Frenchwoman’s forehand winner on the seventh shot of a fierce rally advanced her to the second round against 90th-ranked lucky loser Martina Trevisan of Italy. It was a welcome victory for Garcia after bowing to Lyon finalist Viktorija Golubic in the second-round last week, in which she won just three games and had trouble finding solutions.

After that Lyon defeat, Garcia told Tennis TourTalk she would try to be positive going forward.

“[Losing] is tough to go through. It’s [about] trusting yourself,” she said. Against Kerber, Garcia trusted her abilities, fighting through six double faults and five breaks of her serve. She broke Kerber six times in eight tries and won 52 percent of her total return-point opportunities.

Overall, Garcia outpointed Kerber 84-69 and became the third Frenchwoman to reach the second round, joining Sunday winner Alizé Cornet (ranked 59th) and No. 53 Kristina Mladenovic, who upset No. 13 seed Petra Martic of Croatia, 7-6 (2), 6-4, aided by four service breaks from six looks. It was a solid win by Mladenovic after losing to Spain’s Paula Badosa in the quarterfinal round at Lyon last Friday.

Mladenovic celebrated her Monday afternoon triumph with a fist pump and multiple cries of “Yes! Yes!” as she walked to the net to share a handshake with the fallen Martic. Next, Mladenovic will face No. 36 Jessica Pegula of the United States, one of the year’s most in-form players, who was a semifinalist last week in Doha. Pegula advanced with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan without dropping serve.

Other Monday highlights

• No. 11 seed Madison Keys of the United States, who is hoping to regain the form that lifted her to a runner-up finish at the 2017 US Open, dropped just two games in her 6-1, 6-1 64-minute victory over 2018 Australian Open girls’ champion Liang En-Shuo of Taiwan. Liang was competing in just her third WTA main draw. Next, she will meet 88th-ranked Russian qualifier Anastasia Potapova, who beat No. 56 Laura Siegemund of Germany, 6-3, 6-2.

“I feel good about today,” Keys said during her virtual meeting with media after her win. “Obviously, I played a clean first set and the second set had a couple of break points against me, but I think I handled them very well. I was able to get out of a tough game and kept the momentum. All in all, I’m happy.”

Keys, who missed out on the Australian Open and other Aussie Summer tournaments while recovering from COVID-19 and only made her season debut last week in Doha, was asked if she feels she has a lot of catching up to do because she has played so very few matches. “Yes, it’s been tough. Definitely, I feel a little bit behind everyone else and trying to catch up. I know if I just keep working what I’ve been practicing and trying to implement that in matches, the matches will come.”

• No. 9 seed Garbiñe Muruguza showed the signs of being a two-time Grand Slam champion even when she wasn’t playing her best, just two days after losing the Doha final to Petra Kvitova. After coming from a set down against 73rd-ranked qualifier Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania in their most recent encourager at Beijing in 2016, this time Muguruza won in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5, despite committing four double faults and having her serve broken three times. To her credit, the World No. 16 from Spain broke Begu five times during their one hour and 33-minute match.

“It definitely was a challenge, because they’re definitely different tournaments and conditions,” Muguruza said in comparing Doha and Dubai during her virtual press conference. “I’m just happy that I fought as much as I could, and could close the match in two sets – especially playing against a qualifier, who had extra time on this court. I’m happy I’m getting into the tournament at a good time.”

• No. 12 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic advanced over 101st-ranked Romanian qualifier Ana Bogdan, 6-4, 6-4, thanks to five breaks of serve, to set up a second-round matchup with American 16-year-old Coco Gauff, ranked 40th.

• No. 14 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan advanced over No. 48 Zheng Saisai, 6-0, 6-4 in one hour and 13 minutes in back of five aces and 18 winners. She lost just seven points during her first five service games and won nine of the first 10 games during the match. Next, she will face No. 31 Ons Jabeur in Tuesday evening’s final match on Centre Court.

• No. 15 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia outpointed Hungary’s No. 106 Timea Babos 60-30 and dropped just three games in her 6-2, 6-1, 55-minute victory. She converted six break-point opportunities to advance against No. 67 Sorana Cirstea of Romania, who beat 142nd-ranked qualifier Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, 6-4, 6-4.

• Lucky loser Misaki Doi of Japan advanced to the second round with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 win over No. 57 Polona Hercog of Slovenia. Dubai is the third straight tournament that the No. 77 Doi has achieved lucky loser status after losing in the final round of qualifying, previously at Adelaide and Doha. Each time, she went on to be elevated into the main draw and win her first-round match only to be eliminated in the second round. Next, she will face No. 8 seed Iga Swiatek of Poland, who lifted the Adelaide International trophy in her last tournament.

Anisimova wins first tour-level match since Roland Garros

Thirty-second-ranked Amanda Anisimova of the United States made her much-awaited season debut Monday evening. After recovering from COVID-19 that kept her from playing any Australian Swing tournaments, she abruptly out of last week’s Qatar Total Open after injuring her ankle in a freak fall. Finally, she played in and won her first tour-level match since Roland Garros last October, beating 401st-ranked qualifier Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 6-2, 6-2 in 49 minutes. Anisimova won 83 percent (25 of 30) of her first-serve points, saved three of three break points she faced and converted four of eight break-point opportunities.

The 19-year-old Anisimova, born in New Jersey but now residing in Miami, Fla., broke out a big smile after hitting a forehand winner to secure her first victory of the year. She looked in the direction of her mother and coach and displayed a left fist pump in celebration. Next, she will face No. 9 seed and World No. 16 Garbiñe Muguruza for the first time in Tuesday’s second round.

“A week ago, everyone was telling me that I wasn’t going to be able to play; it was disappointing. I was really hopeful I could play in this tournament,” Anisimova told Tennis TourTalk. “Being out of my comfort zone the past couple of months has really made me mentally become stronger and showed me my focus was really there today.”

Complete Monday Dubai results

News & noteworthy

No. 39 Fiona Ferro of France, who was a semifinalist in Lyon last week (losing to runner-up Viktorija Golubic), withdrew due to fatigue and was replaced by 140th-ranked lucky loser Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria in the main draw. Tomova lost to No. 10 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, in the final Centre Court match of the day.

Mertens, who was playing her first match since losing in the round of 16 of the Australian Open to Karolina Muchova last month, admitted to Tennis Tour Talk she didn’t play her best tennis against Tomova, as her eight doubles faults and six service breaks of her service will attest. However, she converted eight of nine break points and in the end outpointed Tomova 105-93 to advance against 49th-ranked American Shelby Rogers.

As the 18th-ranked Mertens explained, “I didn’t really feel like I was playing my best tennis. I just tried to stay in there, to play aggressive, and at the end it paid off.

“That’s the most important thing now, to just have some more hours on the court, which I did today and I have another match tomorrow.”

In celebration of International Women’s Day

Looking ahead to Tuesday

Tuesday’s order of play features 16 second-round singles matches beginning at noon (9 a.m. Central European) at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium complex. Each of the top four seeds will be in action on Centre Court: No. 1 Elina Svitolina vs. No. 41 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 2 Karolina Pliskova vs. No. 55 Anastasija Sevastova, No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No. 59 Alizé Cornet and No. 4 Petra Kvitova vs. No. 54 Jil Teichmann.