Madison Keys’ introduction to Charleston’s spring tournament couldn’t have been scripted better. The American has won the hearts of fans while powering her way to her inaugural final at Family Circle Cup tomorrow.
That crowd sentiment may not have been completely behind Angelique Kerber on the other side of the draw, as she took out defending champion and fan-favorite, Andrea Petkovic, in the second semifinal of the day. But the love ‘Petko’ showed her friend at the net after her 6-4, 6-4 loss will be remembered as one of the sweetest and best sendoffs in tennis history.
“It’s not easy to play against a good friend, so close one, actually,” Kerber said. “I know Andrea since we were very young. The match, yeah, it’s important. But I think we both give everything we could today. She’s back after so many injuries. It’s nice to see her back playing so good.”
As a result of today’s matches, a new Family Circle Cup champion will be served up tomorrow. Given their history in finals, it should be a doozy. Keys and Kerber fought to the bitter end in the Eastbourne final last summer on grass, where Keys pulled off the three-setter for her first-ever career title.
Tomorrow will mark the first final for Keys, and the second for Kerber, since then.
“I remember that last game where I think I had like 27 match points,” Keys said with a hint of sarcasm. “She kept serving out wide and I kept missing the ball in the middle of the net. I’m like, okay, she’s going to serve it out wide. Cover it. And then she would hit it and then I would miss it. So, I mean, it’ll definitely probably [will] be a battle again.”
“I remember it was a really tough match,” Kerber recalled. “I had my chances, but she was going for it. So, I [will] just try to go for it and try to be aggressive. I will go out and try to win the match, of course.”
Neither woman is a clay-court specialist, especially Keys. Her first-strike style flies in the face of a patient, point-building slow-court player. She faced one break point against Lucie Hradecka today in her 6-1, 6-4 win, but smashed it away.
Keys has made that a theme in Charleston: Keys has not been broken the entire week, and has finished off all her matches in two sets.
“I can play a consistent game, but also be aggressive,” Keys said, about what she’s learned this week about her game. “[I’m] not rushing things, but also not completely changing into a clay-courter.”
Kerber’s three titles have all been on hard court, and inside the confines of an arena. Her game is about as far away from Keys’ game as Boca Raton, Fla., is from both Kerber’s birthplace in Germany and her home in Poland. She returns and runs and fights with the skill of a cat, refusing to give up on any ball, and her commitment to each point is one reason she undermined Petkovic’s game today to win, 6-4, 6-4.
“I was in the top 10,” Kerber began. “Everybody saw that I’m a really consistent player. I’m feeling good again. I was just trying to focus this week on myself, on my good game, on my practice and just try to enjoy my tennis during the matches.
Keys, the No. 7 seed, has served 26 aces for the tournament. She also sits atop all WTA stats from the week including: first-serve points won, second serve points won, service points won, return points won, break points saved (100%), break points converted and service games won.
But, as would be expected, Kerber (the No. 5 seed) has the higher first-serve percentage and return games won. She’s hit a total of four aces.
Kerber’s return to top form here at Family Circle Cup is welcomed by players and fans alike. Formerly ranked as high as No. 5, the German fell out of the top 10 in February where she had rested for 143 consecutive weeks. On Monday, she will move to No. 14 if she wins the title. Otherwise, she will be ranked No. 15.
Keys, on the other hand, will reach a career high of No. 17 by advancing to the final.
“I mean, [it’s] definitely kind of surprising,” Keys remarked when asked about expectations to even advance to a clay-court final this year. “I don’t think the grass finals surprised people as much. [But,] I think it’s pretty good transition from hard to clay. Hopefully I can keep this up.”
Kerber’s objective is focus and belief. “I think I start to believe in myself. And, I just try to focus on every single point and try to get every single ball back.”
The contrast in style will be stark tomorrow. One question will be answered, though — can power overtake consistency and defense on a soft court?
“She’s a very talented player,” Kerber said about Keys. “I think she can play on any surface. She has a great strong serve. I think it’s the first time we play on clay, so let’s see.”