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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, September 4, 2023


Madison Keys battered out a 6-1, 6-3 win over third-seeded Jessica Pegula to power into her third career US Open quarterfinal.

Photo credit: Garrett Ellwood/USTA/US Open

NEW YORK—On a sweaty Labor Day, Madison Keys made quick work of Jessica Pegula.

A confident Keys broke serve five times, battering out a 6-1, 6-3 triumph over the third-seeded Pegula to power into her third career US Open quarterfinal.

Swiatek: I Don't Know What Happened

The US Open is using the Wilson US Open extra duty felt ball in the women’s draw for the first time in years this year and the combination of the denser ball and slower conditions have benefited big hitters.

Though Keys won 17 of 26 points played on Pegula’s second serve, this was a complete performance with much more than pyrotechnic power. Keys mixed in slice backhands, carved out the drop shot and closed net with confidence winning 10 of 13 trips to net.

Tactically, Keys took a simple approach: Keep points short to deny rhythm to Pegula.

"Honestly I feel like today it was just really focused on trying to keep rallies short, just because Jess is so good," Keys said. "The longer the rally gets, the better Jess seems to get.

"It was really just trying to focus on trying to hit the best ball that I could in the first one or two balls of the rallies and luckily things just kind of went my way today."

A depleted Pegula, who is competing in singles, doubles and mixed doubles in New York, couldn't summon the physical and emotional intensity necessary today.

Factor in the retractable roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium was closed for today’s first fourth-rounder due to some showers in the area and Keys was in her comfort zone from the start rolling into her first Flushing Meadows quarterfinal since 2018.

Last night, 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko hammered 31 winners completely dominating defending champion Iga Swiatek in the final set of a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory—her fourth win over the four-time major champion—that will cost Swiatek the world No. 1 ranking.

Today, Keys crunched 21 winners compared to 6 for Pegula in toppling the American No. 1 in a mere 61 minutes.

"I thought Maddie played lights out, I thought, like, serving, returning, hitting the ball so clean," Pegula said. "I mean, she was painting the back of the line. I mean, 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.

"I think it was a combination of things. But honestly, I mean, we all know how she can play. She's still a huge threat when she can play like that."

It's the second consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal for Keys, who reached the last eight at Wimbledon. This is the first time since 2018 when she reached Australian Open quarters and Roland Garros and US Open semifinals that Keys has reached back-to-back major quarterfinals.

"It's really great," Keys said. "I've been working really hard. The beginning half of this year was pretty tough, health-wise and just personal-wise and all of it. So being able to just be able to have back-to-back quarterfinals after a lot of really hard work, it's really great."

Only two of the top five seeds are still standing with second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, who will supplant Swiatek as world No. 1, facing Daria Kasatkina and No. 5-seeded Ons Jabeur playing Qinwen Zheng today.

Tennis Express

Continuing her quest for her first major title, Keys will face Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova for a trip to her third US Open semifinal.

Struggling with an apparent sore serving shoulder, Vondrousova dug down and rallied past former all American Peyton Stearns 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-2 into her first US Open quarterfinal in her fifth Flushing Meadows appearance. Vondrousova extended her Grand Slam winning streak to 11 matches.

It is Vondrousova’s third career Grand Slam quarterfinal and she’s pushed through to the finals in her two prior major quarterfinals. Vondrousova defeated Pegula, Elina Svitolina and Ons Jabeur in succession to win Wimbledon in July after reaching the 2019 Roland Garros final falling to Ash Barty.

“I feel like she's a great player. She has such a great season also," Vondrousova said of Keys. "She's playing really fast. You know, her serve is amazing. Yeah, I think I gonna run so much for everything.

"Yeah, I mean, I feel like, you know, she's at home also. She played finals here couple years ago. I feel like, you know, she feels great here, so it's going to be a very tough match."

Tears welled up in Vondrousova’s eyes on a changeover midway through the second set. She took pain tablets from the trainer and washed them down with water.

The Wimbledon winner gritted her teeth and showed her defense, flicking back a stretch forehand to coax a Stearns error and break for 4-2.

Spinning a forehand winner down the line, Vondrousova held at 30 for 5-2, but wore a grim expression as she paced back to her court-side seat. On the changeover, Vondrousova pressed her towel against her left arm.

The left-handed Czech slid her seventh ace to end the second set and force a decider after 90 minutes. Vondrousova burst out to a 5-1 lead and never looked back closing in two hours, 10 minutes.

“She was playing great from the beginning,” Vondrousova said. “I just tried to stay in the game and focus on every point. She’s a very dangerous player and I feel she has a great future ahead of her. It was a very tough match.”

Arthur Ashe Stadium fans were likely expecting a tight test in today’s all-American opener, which Pegula won.

Yet Keys commanded the center of the court from the start and played more proactive tennis than Pegula, who looked lethargic and a half-step flow to the ball.

The 17th-seeded Keys charged out to a 5-1 first-set lead barely making a mis-step in the process.

Struggling to find net clearance, Pegula knocked a backhand into net handing Keys a second set point. When Pegula sailed a forehand return beyond the baseline, Keys collected the 27-minute opener.

The 2017 finalist was nearly flawless on serve in the first set. Keys won 17 of 23 points played on her serve in the opening set.

The third seed tried to rouse herself, scoring her first break to even the second-set after six games.

Each time Pegula tried to make a push, Keys shoved her back into obscure areas of court again.

Montreal champion Pegula said she doesn't believe her increased match workload impacted her today.

"The scheduling has been okay this week, so I felt okay," Pegula said. "I like to keep playing and keep winning. It's hard to say. Like, I could have pulled out of doubles and still got my ass kicked today and it wouldn't have made a difference.

"I don't think me yesterday even playing mixed, I was going to see how today went, whether I'd stay in mixed. Me going out and playing an hour and a half of mixed was not the reason, like, I had 20-something unforced errors today. It's just not."

Hitting deeper drives, Keys drew a cluster of errors from a weary-looking Pegula. When Pegula sailed a forehand, Keys broke back for 4-3.

Lining up her two-hander, Keys crunched a crosscourt backhand pass—her 20th winner of the day—to go up 30-love.

When Pegula pasted one final forehand into net, Keys screamed “come on!” returning to the US Open quarterfinals for the first time in five years.

"I think you just take every match as another match," Keys said. "Obviously that gets a little bit tougher as you get closer to the end of the tournament, but I think just being honest with yourself that it's fine if you start feeling some nerves and pressure and things like that, but at the end of the day it's just another tennis match."


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