Day 5 Delivers the Drama as Keys Solves Stephens, Wozniacki Wins
By: Nick McCarvel
For Madison Keys, the fourth time's a charm.
The 2015 Volvo Car Open runner-up beat good friend Sloane Stephens for the first time in four meeting in what was a re-match of the 2017 US Open final, prevailing 7-6(6) 4-6 6-2 in a dramatic encounter that was full of twists and turns.
That was one of four quarterfinals played out inside Volvo Car Stadium, with 2011 champ Caroline Wozniacki, 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig and Croatia’s Petra Martic, the No. 16 seed, all scoring wins to book a place in the coveted final four.
Martic advanced to the biggest semifinal of her career with a 6-3 6-4 upset win over the No. 9 seed Belinda Bencic. Martic had been a pedestrian 3-4 in 2019 before arriving in Charleston. She’s now 4-0 this week.
"It means a lot (to make the semis). I came here confident," she said on Tennis Channel. "I tried not to think about (the significance) when I was finishing the match out there, but I'm definitely emotional. My goal is to win a WTA tournament."
To do so she’ll have to first go through Wozniacki, who herself was unbothered in a 6-2 6-2 drubbing of Maria Sakkari, the No. 15. Sakkari had upset No. 2 seed and defending champion Kiki Bertens on Thursday, but fell flat against Woz, who is now a sterling 18-4 on Daniel Island.
Puig hasn't dropped a set this week, and that didn’t change against American Danielle Collins on Thursday night, who was overwhelmed by the Puerto Rican’s power in a 6-3 6-2 scoreline.
It's Puig’s first semi since New Haven in August. It's also the first time she's won four consecutive matches (at any level) since that New Haven week, when she came through qualifying.
In the Keys match, Stephens served for the first set twice, but could not close it out. After Keys took it to a tiebreak, she led 4-0 only to fall down 4-6. She'd save two set points and then win the set herself, escaping with her first-ever set over Stephens.
Stephens would win set two, but Keys said she didn't feel out of it. She got a pep talk from coach Jim Madrigal, then took an early advantage in the decider and prevailed, 6-2. The two friends embraced at the net, sharing a laugh and a casual exchange.
"A lot of the previous encounters (against Sloane) I was trying to do too much," Keys said after. "I realized I didn't have to rush and hit a winner right away... I played more of my tennis."
Wozniacki has a simple approach to how she keeps her winning ways.
"I'm feeling healthy, which is the main thing, and now it's just all about going out there and enjoying it," she said. Wozniacki will be looking to win through into her 55th career final, with a 30-24 record overall.
Martic has never won a tour-level WTA title, having had her best result by winning a 125-series event in Chicago.
"I love this tournament," Martic said. "I felt like it was a good chance to start the clay court season well and it looks like a good decision for me," she added, smiling.
A good decision indeed.