BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom: Madison Keys made an impressive start to the Birmingham WTA tournament on Monday (Tuesday in Manila), beating Timea Babos 7-6 (7/3) 6-4 in the first ground of the grasscourt Wimbledon warm-up event.
The 21-year-old, whom Serena Williams last year described as “a world number one of the future” is widely considered America’s best hope of success when the long Williams era ends.
Keys struggled early this year after injuring a leg during the Australian Open. Now, though, she attacked freely on a lush green surface.
A swift victory seemed likely after she hurried into a 5-2 lead, but when Keys tried to close out the set, serving at 5-3, she seemed to lose her serving rhythm and allowed Babos to break back with some good returns.
The pivotal moments, though, came when Keys took seven successive points in the tie-break from 0-3 down, making one stunning service return to reach 3-3 and thereafter driving more confidently and accurately.
“I think I was rushing too much to get the first set over in those moments when I played badly,” admitted Keys. “But I have become better at figuring stuff out after this clay court season.”
This included a win in Rome over Garbine Muguruza, soon afterwards the French Open champion, a success which helped Keys back into the world’s top 20.
Keys could now be one win away from a quarter-final meeting with Petra Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion who however suffered a curious piece of ill luck as she begins one of her most important tournaments for many months.
Dogged by illness, injury, and indifferent form, Kvitova landed an opener against one of her best friends.
The Czech left-hander was originally drawn against Misaki Doi, the 48th-ranked Japanese player, but after a redraw was required by the withdrawal of the third-seeded Simona Halep, Kvitova found herself saddled with an encounter with last year’s French Open runner-up, Lucie Safarova.
The two have known each other since their childhood days in Moravia and still train at the same club.
Later, Belinda Bencic, another young prospect who could do well in this grass court season, spoke of her comeback after two months out with injury.
“I believe I can beat all these opponents,” said the 19-year-old Swiss, the youngest player in the world’s top 10.