Monday, 25 January 2016

Zhang edges out inured Keys

Madison Keys, the 15th seed, made the semi finals last year and was a big chance to repeat that effort in 2016, especially with the defeats of Simona Halep and Venus Williams, leaving her as the only seed in this part of the draw.  Her challenge was to move past tonight's opponent, Shuai Zhang, Halep's conqueror in round one.

Zhang served first and immediately Keys had three break points.  A forehand smash winner confirmed the break and the American led 1-0.  15-15 after a Keys error.  40-15 with two netted returns. A double fault and deuce. A big serve forced an errant return but deuce was found again. Another game point was saved with good shot making by Zhang. Finally Keys won and consolidated the break for 2-0.

Zhang held serve with her forehand winning some points, and Keys saved a break point and led 3-1.  The American was hitting the ball hard as expected and Zhang was absorbing the speed well.

Both players continued to hold serve with confidence and only one point was lost against the server in the next four games.  Keys led 5-3 and Zhang needed to hold once more to remain in the set.

A series of unforced errors put Zhang in trouble at 0-40 before Keys joined in and committed three successive mistakes of her own.  A winner out of all the disasters came from the American and the break point was subsequently converted, the first set won 6-3 by Keys.

First up in set two Keys used her forehand to great effect and held well for 1-0.  Zhang levelled thanks in large part to the failure on the backhand side of the 15th seed.  Then Keys was broken with an unforced backhand error on the single break point available to Zhang.  2-1 to Zhang and a medical time out for Keys.  It seemed an injury to the leg.

Serves were held in the next two games, Zhang sealing hers with a winner, Keys with an ace, and Zhang was ahead 3-2. Keys was clearly struggling with her leg injury but found herself with three break back points courtesy of unforced errors from Zhang.  All were saved and Zhang led 4-2.  Keys had two break points to negotiate in her next service game and she bravely fought them off with backhand and forehand winners. She closed out the game with an ace and trailed 3-4.

The last two games of the set were difficult to watch, as Keys could put little pressure on the Zhang serve,  and then was broken in the ninth game, double faulting twice to lose the set.  6-3 Zhang and one set all.

How Keys managed to continue in the third set is amazing considering how hampered she was in her movement around the court, but credit to her for trying to the end.  Others have given up for much much less.  The opening game was comfortable for Zhang despite a winning backhand from Keys and she led 1-0. 

A double fault did not stop Keys from levelling at 1-1 and then the American forehand caused trouble for Zhang.  0-40 and only one break point saved.  Madison Keys was now ahead 2-1 with a break and defying a serious leg injury in the process. Whatever happens she deserves plaudits.

The momentum was still with Keys as she reached 30-0 thanks to a pair of aces.  Sadly four unforced errors cost her the serve and Zhang was back on serve 2-2.  More errors made it easy for Zhang to once agin lead 3-2.

A Zhang forehand winner created break point, saved by Keys whose own winning forehand clinched the game to level 3-3.  

Zhang held serve comfortably and then a forehand winner converted a break point on the next Keys serve.  5-3 and serving for the match.

Forehand winners set up an easy service hold and Shuai Zhang won the match 3-6 6-3 6-3

Zhang continues her incredible ride as a qualifier ranked in the 100s.  She will now play unseeded Konta in the quarter finals, guaranteeing an unseeded semi finalist for Kerber or Azarenka to meet.

One has to feel for Madison Keys though.  Her battle from early in the second set against Zhang and leg injury was brave and competitive.  It was in turn sad and inspiring to witness.  

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