Keys Loves Winning In Charleston And The City Loves Her Back

Madison Keys (photo: WTA Tour video)

CHARLESTON, S.C./WASHINGTON, April 7, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

In the 50-year storied history of the Credit One Charleston Open, there have been nine past champions who have won the title more than once. The list includes eight-time winner Chris Evert, four-time winners Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova, three-time winner Serena Williams and two-time winners Justine Henin and Martina Hingis.

All of them with the exception of Williams, who is still an active player, have been inducted in the Tennis Hall of Fame. While Williams is a virtual certainty to be voted into the Hall of Fame when she retires, there’s only one remaining past champion in this year’s field, 24th-ranked Madison Keys of the United States. She would love nothing better than to repeat her 2019 title success and lift another trophy in her ninth appearance in the Lowcountry of Charleston.

The 5-foot-10-inch, 27-year-old from Rock Island, Ill., who lives and trains in Orlando, Fla., came into her second-round match against 281st-ranked qualifier Ulrikke Eikeri of Norway sporting a 14-6 win-loss record. She began her 2022 season by winning a hard-court title at Adelaide, Australia, the sixth of her career, then followed that triumph with a semifinal run at the Australian Open, losing 6-1, 6-3 to champion Ashleigh Barty. More recently, Keys was a quarterfinalist at Indian Wells last month.

While it’s been more than 300 days since Keys played her last match on clay, she’s comfortable on the surface – and it showed during her 6-3, 6-1 rain-delayed victory over Eikeri, which began Day Three play on the stadium court at Daniel Island. The match was originally scheduled for Tuesday evening but was postponed due to inclement weather.

The victory was Keys’s sixth in her last seven matches at Charleston going back to her 2019 title run. It was her first time playing in the renovated stadium.

“It’s beautiful,” Keys said earlier this week. “I kind of got a sneak peek of it virtually. We love the new players’ area, but the venue is so fan friendly. I feel like we’re constantly mingling with the fans and I think that’s such a unique part of Charleston.”

The ninth-seeded Keys, who outscored Eikeri 62-41, broke her opponent five times during the 68-minute match and won the final six games through her consistency of play and by controlling the tempo of the second-round match. She exuded much confidence throughout.

“The first set I was a little bit nervous. The first match on any new surface is always a little bit difficult,” Keys explained during her on-court interview. “As time went on, I felt more comfortable and at the end, I was playing some pretty good tennis.”

While every tennis match tells a story, Keys was asked during the on-court interview what she’ll take away from her first clay-court match of the season.

“Honestly, I mostly take away that I felt like I had a really great attitude at the beginning when I don’t think I was playing my best tennis and trying to figure things out,” she said. “But just really letting myself continue to work hard, stay in points, and figure my way through the match, then giving myself an opportunity to play well at the end.”

Next, Keys will play No. 10 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who defeated 16-year-old wild card Linda Fruhvirtova of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 7-6 (6), in an hour and 39 minutes on Althea Gibson Club Court. The World No. 21 Bencic converted six of 10 break points and outpointed the 188th-ranked Fruhvirtova 74-56.

Wednesday’s Charleston Open results

Thursday’s Charleston Open order of play

Around the Charleston Open

With rain washing out Tuesday’s evening session, it created a busy day Wednesday with one remaining first-round singles match and 16 second round matches highlighting the order of play. Top seeds Aryna Sabalenka and Paula Badosa, two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova and Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic were all in action.

Eventually, thunder and lightening suspended the match between No. 4 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and 194th-ranked American wild card Emma Navarro during the second set, with Jabeur leading 6-3, 5-2. The final match of day, pairing No. 7 seed Leylah Fernandez of Canada and No. 64 Magda Linette of Poland was cancelled. Both will be added to Thursday’s schedule.

Among the highlights:

• Top seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus broke a three-match losing streak that dated back to February at Doha with her 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over No. 50 Alison Riske of the United States, in an hour and 49 minutes on the stadium court. She overcame eight double faults and 44 unforced errors by hitting seven aces and 30 winners. Sabalenka outscored Riske 85-72.

“I was really focused from the beginning to the end,” Sabalenka said in an on-court interview. “It’s always a tough match against Alison. I expected this kind of tennis today. I prepared myself and I’m happy with the result.”

Next, Sabalenka will face No. 15 seed Amanda Anisimova of the United States, who advanced with a 6-1, 6-2 win over No. 47 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

• Second seed Paula Badosa of Spain weathered the storm and rode out a 70-minute delay to beat No. 73 Anna Bondar of Hungary, 6-1, 6-4, which wrapped up the stadium’s afternoon session in the early evening. The World No. 3 hit a forehand winner that capped a 29-shot rally on match point. It was Badosa’s 15th winner of the match and she outpointed Bondar 70-53.

“I think the match point is typical of how I’m going to play on clay,” Badosa said during her on-court interview. “I know it’s going to be a long point. I want to be aggressive on the baseline. I just wanted to win the point and go home, to be honest.”

Next, Badosa will play No. 89 Claire Liu of the United States, who defeated No. 16 seed Zhang Shuai of China, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

• Third seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic finished her rain-suspended second-round match against No. 211 Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine with a 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 win in two hours and 47 minutes, an hour and 45 minutes which was contested on Wednesday. The World No. 7 Pliskova rallied from a set and 3-5 down. She hit 42 winners against 48 unforced errors and outpointed Zavatska 111-106 to earn her first win of the season and first in six months, since last November at Guadalajara.

“It’s my first win this year, so of course I’m happy,” Pliskova said with a smile, during her on-court interview. “It was a great fight. She played really well. It was not easy to make points for me. It was a great battle for her, for me; first match on clay [this season].”

Next, Pliskova will face No. 54 Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, who bested No. 72 Zheng Qinwen of China by retirement, ahead 2-6, 7-5, 5-2, after two hours and 27 minutes. Zheng struck 19 aces in defeat, most in a WTA match so far this season.

• Other winners advancing include: No. 6 seed Jessica Pegula of the United States, No. 12 seed Alizé Cornet of France, unseeded Kaia Kanepi of Estonia and Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, all winning in straight sets, and American lucky loser Coco Vandeweghe.

• There was one seed upset: No. 5 Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan fell to No. 107 Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4. It was Kalinina’s first Top-20 win of her career.

By the numbers

A total of 21 different countries are represented in the singles draw this week in Charleston, led by the United States with 19 players.

“Quotable …”

“I’m so happy there’s fans ago. It’s been way too long without everyone. I absolutely love playing here. I think this [tournament] has one of the best fan groups I’ve ever played in front of. I just love coming here.”

Madison Keys, 2019 Charleston champion on what she likes about playing at the Charleston Open.