Keys thrives on home support to reach US Open semis
American Madison Keys rode the home crowd's support at Arthur Ashe Stadium to swat aside Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova 6-1, 6-4 and reach the U.S. Open semi-finals on Wednesday.
Keys, runner-up in 2017, has suffered a handful of early exits at her home Grand Slam in recent years but has excelled in the 2023 edition and is flourishing under the bright lights at Flushing Meadows.
She next faces second seed Aryna Sabalenka, who dispatched China's Zheng Qinwen 6-1, 6-4 earlier on Wednesday to reach her fifth Grand Slam semi-final in a row.
"I just love it here. I love playing here. In front of a home crowd you can never feel like you can't get out of any situation," said Keys, who fended off all nine break points she faced during the match.
"I knew I was going to have to keep trying to get to the net, be aggressive."
The match got off to an unusual start as the chair umpire was forced to stop play midway through the first game for several minutes when a spectator needed medical attention.
Keys was not rattled by the incident and began her demolition once play resumed, breaking Czech Vondrousova to love in the second game and converting on another break point chance with a fine forehand winner in the fourth.
Ninth seed Vondrousova had withdrawn from her doubles campaign after a three-setter against Peyton Stearns in the fourth round left her with a sore arm and she looked like she lacked firepower against Keys.
And while she stepped up a gear in the second set, improving her serve considerably, she was still unable to seize the momentum, failing to convert on five break points in the eighth game alone.
Keys broke her opponent in the ninth game and let out a cheer as she forced Vondrousova into a backhand error on match point.
Vondrousova, who served up five double faults in the match, made no excuses for her defeat and told reporters that Keys was simply too good.
"I don't think it was nerves. I played, you know, some good points. It wasn't enough," she added.
"I think from her side it was so good on the serve. Yeah, was just trying to find a way. Just all credits to her today."
Keys expects a tough challenge from Sabalenka, who beat her in the Wimbledon quarter-finals and is assured of the world number one spot when the rankings are updated after the tournament.
"Almost a completely different match tomorrow," said Keys. "It's going to be a lot of hard hitting, not a lot of long points."
Sabalenka eases past Zheng into US Open semis
Second seed Aryna Sabalenka crushed Zheng Qinwen 6-1, 6-4 on Wednesday to reach her fifth straight Grand Slam semi-final and end the Chinese 23rd seed's charmed run at the U.S. Open.
Sabalenka, who will move top of the world rankings next week, will next face 17th seed Madison Keys after the American powered past Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova.
The Belarusian leads Keys 2-1 in their head-to-head meetings, most recently beating her in the Wimbledon quarters.
Zheng, in her first Grand Slam quarter-final, endured a miserable time against the Australian Open winner as she was unable to get much power off her serve and committed a succession of errors.
"I'm super happy with the win against her ... super happy with the performance," said Sabalenka, who lost in the semi-finals in her previous two U.S. Open appearances.
"I'm going to do everything I can to stay until the end."
Sabalenka has not dropped a set this year at Flushing Meadows and won the first five games on Wednesday, dropping only one point on her first serve in the opening set.
Zheng improved in the second set, forcing Sabalenka to run back and forth along the baseline and showed finesse to triumph in a 21-shot rally in the fifth game.
"In the second set she start playing better, serving better. I kind of expect that, because after first set it was, like, nothing to lose for her, she start playing a little bit more aggressive," Sabalenka said.
A double fault and two unforced errors in the seventh game saw Zheng broken and she never recovered, sending a backhand into the net on match point to prompt a satisfied fist-pump from her opponent.
"It was a little tricky, and I'm super happy that even though she was serving really well, I was able to break her serve for once, and it was enough for that set," Sabalenka told reporters.
Zheng said she would learn from the loss.
"I feel against her I need to know how to (defend) better and stay more in the rally," she told reporters. "Sabalenka, she's a tough opponent to beat, and the loss today made me think a lot."