Madison Keys put up a masterclass in the first match of the night session on Day 10 of the US Open as she outgunned qualifier Kaia Kanepi in straight sets over just an hour, sending herself into her first ever Grand Slam semifinal.
With three quarterfinal matches already panned out, Keys had a tremendous amount of pressure on her shoulders as she had to prevail for an all-American semifinal dream to come true. Playing freely in front of her home crowd, Keys put in some smart serves and played a very clean match for a second Grand Slam semifinal appearance overall.
Keys takes the first set in 29 minutes
Coming into the match as the huge favorite to clinch an American sweep, Keys made pressure seem nothing when she strolled to a comfortable service hold in the opening game which saw her hit an incredible three aces, with a total of four consecutive unreturned serves. Nonetheless, Kanepi also looked solid on her serve early in the match as she had a confidence-boosting love service hold to get on the scoreboard.
For a player like Keys, she must ensure that she keeps the rhythm ongoing as one single disrupt to her rhythm will cause her to lose focus and start committing errors. That was what happened to the American in the third game as she faced three break points.
However, the 22-year-old was quick to rebound as her powerful serving saved her from the brink. It was Kanepi who blinked first as a couple of long backhands proved to be costly, allowing Keys to draw first blood and make the first breakthrough. The home favorite then consolidated the break without facing many troubles, clinching her second love service hold of the night.
Kanepi continued to keep the scores tight with a confident hold, lessening the deficit to just two games. Serving her fifth ace of the match, Keys edged ahead 5-2 and looked poised to close out the first set in a hurry. The Estonian kept herself in the first set for at least one more game with a narrow service hold, coming from 0-30 down to do so. Not disappointing her fans, Keys comfortably served out the opening set 6-3 after just 29 minutes of play.
Keys seals a semifinal spot
Keys had the perfect start to the second set as she capitalized on her third break point in the opening game, placing herself in an advantageous position for the victory. The confidence and rhythm continued to push Keys forward, consolidating the break to 15 for a 2-0 lead. Nevertheless, Kanepi got on the scoreboard with a solid service hold of her own, looking to make use of every opportunity she earned.
The unheralded Estonian came from 15-40 down and held her serve in a tight fifth game, keeping herself within striking distance as she fended off a total of two break points. For the American, service games were as routine as it seemed, with Kanepi unable to find any loopholes at all.
It looked to be all over when Keys led 4-2 30-0 but the qualifier fought back to hold her serve, with her fighting spirit being evident. With an incredible eighth ace of the day, Keys put herself just one game away from the straightforward win as Kanepi found herself serving to stay in the match at 3-5 down. The pressure seemed to have overwhelmed the Estonian as she threw in a double-fault at deuce to gift Keys a match point, which she dutifully converted with the help of a forehand unforced error by her opponent.
Stats Corner: Keys was incredible today
The 15th seed was just invincible on her serve throughout the whole encounter, clinching 79 percent of points behind her powerful first serve and losing just a mere six points off her second serve. Winning 86 percent of points at the net and serving eight aces, Keys was evidently the more dominant player on the court today. Kanepi won 65 percent of points behind her first serves but she was too leaky behind her second deliveries and the majority of her 16 unforced errors came at the crucial moments, costing her greatly.
Next up for Keys: Good friend and compatriot
Madison Keys became the fourth American to reach the semifinals, ensuring that there will be an American winner at the end of the fortnight. She will next face Coco Vandeweghe for a place in the semifinals, with neither of them getting past the semifinal stage in their careers yet. For both players, it will be their first appearance in a US Open semifinal and they will look to excel in front of the American crowd with their match being scheduled after the first semifinal between another two Americans, Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens. It is also worth noting that Keys and Vandeweghe have already met twice during the summer, with Keys triumphing on both occasions.