Australian Open 2015: Keys downs Kvitova for double-Madison fairytale

Madison Keys beats fourth seed Petra Kvitova in straight sets to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open

After the culling of seeds in the early days of the women’s draw at this year’s Australian Open, things had begun to settle just a little as the big names contested a place in the second week. Among those still in the running, and many people’s tip to take the title, was No4 seed Petra Kvitova.

The rest of ‘the big four’ in her half, No1 Serena Williams, No6 Agnieszka Radwanska and the former champion Victoria Azarenka, unseeded because of persistent injury last season, were already through to the fourth round by the time Kvitova took to court for the last match of first Saturday.

It had all been plain sailing for the Wimbledon champion, too, as she continued her campaign for a very significant milestone. If she won her first Major outside London, and Williams fell short of the semi-finals, the tall Czech could claim the No1 ranking for the first time.

Her problem was a certain teenager named Madison Keys—19 years old and with one of the most powerful games on serve and off the ground in the game. The American, now coached by former Grand Slam champion Lindsay Davenport, made her first main-draw appearance in Melbourne as a 16 year old, and the next year she reached the third round.

The teenager, who reached a high of 27 last year after winning her first career title in Eastbourne, just missed out on a seeding this week, making her one of the most dangerous women in the draw.

Kvitova was aware of the challenge: “For sure, she’s a better player than she was when I played her in Tokyo in 2013. It’s a different surface and different conditions. I know she has a big serve and is going to be really aggressive. She has a similar game as Venus. So I need to serve well and try to return her serve.”

Bringing these two big-hitters together made for exhilarating tennis, with both standing their ground and attempting to make first-strike winners. Keys threw down the gauntlet straight away with two break point chances, but Kvitova resisted. However it quickly became clear that this was not a one-off threat. Keys had a break chance again in the fifth game and this time made a cracking forehand down-the-line winner to go 3-2.

Perhaps it was nerves—and understandably so—but Keys was immediately broken back to love. However it was again Keys who wrenched control with some jaw-dropping strikes that Kvitova could simply not control. The American broke again and served out with an ace, 6-4.

Kvitova looked non-plussed, but determined that if she could not control from the baseline, she would use her considerable net skills to break up the formidable Keys rhythm. Her problem was getting to the net, though she pulled off a handful of lovely touch volleys when she did make it.

With both women now struggling to maintain their level on first serve, they were open to vicious return strikes. After two initial holds, there were four breaks in a row for 3-3.

They each seemed to hit the ball ever harder, and that kept the points short and fast. The longest rally, at 17 strokes, came with Keys serving to hold for 5-5, and she did hold. Not content with that, she powered through the next two games as well, spraying winners for a famous victory, 7-5. It was reminiscent of a Kvitova performance—the one that had won her the Wimbledon title.

The Rod Laver arena loved it, too, and who wouldn’t. Keys’ fastest ace touched 120mph, and she averaged 94mph, but she also has the complete baseline game, clean striking and wonderful timing.

She was, of course, delighted: “My hands are still shaking. I’m really glad I served out so well. Right now, I can’t even process anything. I’m just so excited to play Maddie in the next round.”

For the fairytale continues. Keys will take on compatriot Madison Brengle, who beat Coco Vandeweghe, 6-3, 6-2. And that Madison has her own story to tell.

The petite 24-year-old is ranked at a career-high 64, and was outside the top 100 a year ago. Last year, she played almost entirely in ITF and qualifying rounds, winning just four main-tour matches. This year, though, she arrived in the main draw at Melbourne for the first time since 2008 after playing three rounds of qualifying and all the way to the final in Hobart.

Already this week, she has beaten No13 seed Andrea Petkovic, and now finds herself in the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time: She has won only one Major match before.

“It’s incredible, I could not be happier. I didn’t know I was coming to Australia until two weeks before I left. So being here, getting to play out here, it’s amazing. It’s the first time I’ve played on a stadium like this, so, I’d like to do it again.”

The reason she didn’t know whether she would be in Melbourne was because she was diagnosed with skin cancer five months ago, and only got the all clear to travel to Australia at the start of the year.

After her opening win here, she admitted: “Every time I go out there, I kind of appreciate it a little bit more than I used to because you’re not aware of how lucky we are to be healthy until you have a scare like that.”

Reason enough that the two Madisons, both headliners today, may find themselves on the biggest stage come Monday.

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