NEW YORK – Madison Keys has had success at the US Open before, finishing second in 2017 and reaching the semifinals a year later. She knows what it’s like to enter the competition with high expectations.
But prior to this year’s event, there were countrywomen like Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula grabbing all the headlines, both poised to compete for perhaps the first major title of their respective careers. Keys, on the other hand, started this year’s US Open as the 17th seed in the world.
Maybe that’s why Keys is thriving. At least that’s how she sees it. She impressively rolled past Pegula in straight sets 6-1, 6-3 on Monday to advance to the quarterfinals, the first time she has advanced that far at the year’s final Slam since the 2018 semifinals.
It was Pegula who was on a roll, including victory at the National Bank of Montreal Open last month, but it was Keys who was the better player on this day inside the roofed Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I’ve gone in the last couple of years and maybe I haven’t had the run I wanted,” said Keys, who lost in the third round last year and in the first round in 2021. ve) is honestly trying not to have any expectations, and go out and play tennis and focus on that. Fortunately, I’m in the quarterfinals here.”
Keys was dominant from the start, breaking for a 2-0 lead in Pegula’s first service game before winning again 5-1 to close out the set. Keys took a 3-2 lead when she broke Pegula for the third time in the second. Pegula immediately broke back – losing only his second service game of the tournament – but Keys responded to tie it at 3-3, before holding on to close out the match for good in one hour and one minute.
“I thought Maddie played lights out — serving, returning, hitting the ball cleanly,” Pegula said. “I mean she was drawing the back of the line. There really wasn’t much I could do.
I don’t think I played my best, but at the same time she didn’t give me much of a chance to get back into it. Every time I felt like maybe there was a window,[it]wasn’t happening.
Pegula, the No. 3 seed and top-ranked American, was visibly upset during the match. After hitting a backhand into the net in the second set, she dropped her racket in frustration and later threw the ball into the back wall display.
She had reason to be upset with herself. She hit just 55 percent in the first round, 35 percent in the second round and committed 20 unforced errors to just six winners.
Keys was more on her game, blasting 21 winners to 19 unforced errors. She had a first serve percentage of 71 and won 77 percent of those points.
“I feel like Jace is focused on trying to keep the lineups short just because he’s so good,” Keys said, “and the longer the lineup goes, the better Jace gets. The first one or two balls of the rally I was trying to focus on hitting the best ball I could.
That held true as Keys won 44 of his 74 points in rallies that took four shots or less.
Six years after losing to Sloan Stephens in the All-American final, the road won’t be easy for Keys if she is to win her first Grand Slam title. Keys defeated 2023 Wimbledon champion Marketa Vonnrosova, the No. 9 seed, in Wednesday’s quarterfinals after Vondrosova defeated 21-year-old Ohio native Peyton Stearns — the last unseeded player left in the draw — 6-7(3) 6-3, 6-2 on Monday.
“I think she’s got a unique style because she’s a little bit witty and she thinks things like that, but she’s got a really good energy and goodness,” Keyes said.
If Keys gets past Vondrosova, this year’s Australian Open champion and No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka could await in the semifinals. The 19-year-old Gauff, the sixth-seeded American favored by many to win the event, could be the eventual opponent.
As for Pegula, the 29-year-old Buffalo native has yet to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam. She enters this year’s US Open having reached the major quarterfinals six times in the past three years.
It was a strong US Open for the American contingent. Four American players remain in the men’s and women’s singles qualifiers as the fourth round begins. On the men’s side, No. 9 seed Taylor Fritz, No. 10 seed Francis Tiafoe and unseeded Ben Shelton all advanced to the quarterfinals. In the year No American has won a singles tournament since Andy Roddick in 2003. Keys and Gauff, who won Sunday afternoon, are now the only American women left. In the year They are trying to become the first American to win the women’s title since Stephenson won at Keys in 2017.
A year after that loss, it was Naomi Osaka who beat Key out of the semifinals, denying her a chance to return to the finals. A few years from now, she’ll be in a different headspace than she is now. And it’s helping fuel her success.
“Definitely when I’m playing with lower expectations and not putting as much pressure on myself and playing with a better approach to the game, mental health is a lot better,” Keys said.
Coco Gauff beats Caroline Wozniacki – and earns her accolades – at US Open
(Top photo: Kenna Betancourt / AFP via Getty Images)