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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, August 18, 2019

 
Madison Keys

Svetlana Kuznetsova served for both sets, but Madison Keys asserted her aggression streaking back for a 7-5, 7-6(5) victory to capture her fifth championship in Cincinnati.

Photo credit: @CincyTennis

Playing catch-up for two sets on a sweltering afternoon was no stress test for Madison Keys.

It was merely cause for comeback.

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Svetlana Kuznetsova served for both the first and second sets at 5-4, but Keys asserted her aggression at crunch time streaking back for a 7-5, 7-6(5) victory to capture her fifth career championship in Cincinnati.

It’s the biggest title of Keys’ career and her second championship on American soil this season following her run to the Charleston title in April where she knocked off three Grand Slam champions—Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki—for her first career clay-court crown.

"It's obviously the biggest title I have ever won, and, I mean, it was a tough draw from the very start," Keys said. "I played some really, really great players from Round 1 until today. Yeah, I definitely think I played some of my best tennis consistently this week."




Keys cracked 30 more winners—43 to 13—than Kuznetsova in a one hour, 44-minute triumph.

The 16th-seeded American arrived in the Queen city with her confidence so low she conceded she would have “laughed in your face” if told she’d reach the final before the tournament began.

As the Tom Petty classic “American Girl” blared from the sound system, Keys wore the wide smile of a champion after fighting off four Grand Slam champions—Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep, Venus Williams and Kuznetsova—in a victory that is projected to propel her back to the Top 10 when the new WTA rankings are released tomorrow.

It’s Keys’ second career hard-court championship and first since she won the 2017 Stanford title.

It didn’t come easily.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova competed with more composure and clarity at the start of both sets.
B The 24-year-old Rock Island, Illinois native played a sloppy opening game gifting the break. Content to spin her first serve in, Kuznetsova used her variety and unsettling skill altering the height and pace of her shots to sustain the break.

The Russian wild card repelled a pair of break points holding for 4-2.

Amid windy conditions, Keys sprayed shots at times playing too close to the lines while Kuznetsova played higher-percentage crosscourt drives with plenty of topspin.



Serving for the set at 5-4, Kuznetsova netted a forehand to face double break point. Growing in confidence, Keys banged a backhand winner down the line breaking back in the 10th game.

That break turned the set around. Keys charged through 12 of the final 1 points of the opening set smacking an inside-out forehand winner to snatch an opening set that saw Kuznetsova outplay her for stretches.

"I think I was supposed to be a little bit more aggressive," Kuznetsova said. "I think Madison served well, served much better than I did. But still, I had all the chances. Sometimes it goes this way, you know. The game is like this. Yeah, I served both times with the wind, and first set I did one easy mistake. Second time she played better, the game, but it was very even match. You know, it could go either way."

Shrugging off her four-game slide to end the opening set, Kuznetsova broke for a 2-1 second-set lead. The 153rd-ranked Russian dodged a break point in the ensuing game to back up the break leaving a frustrated Keys banging her Wilson racquet off her shoe in frustration.

Following a familiar script of the first set, Kuznetsova through a love hold for 5-3.

When Kuznetsova stepped up to serve for the second set at 5-4, she grew a bit tight again. Keys pounced punishing a forehand down the line then breaking back on the Russian’s error to level at 5-all.

Deadlocked at 4-all in the tie break, Kuznetsova mis-hit a return and Keys scalded a diagonal forehand for double championship point.



On her second championship point, Keys closed when Kuznetsova sailed a forehand.

The 2017 US Open finalist reached the Flushing Meadows final four last September and will arrive in New York empowered by her fifth title and her imposing serve-forehand power pattern with aspirations for more.

"I think I love New York honestly just because even in moments in the last couple of years where I have been down and out I have had such crowd support that they have helped me so much," Keys said. "Honestly, some of my favorite matches that I have ever played have been those late Ashe matches. I think I just have really thrived in that environment." 

 

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