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US Open - Madison Keys vs CoCo Vandeweghe semi-final preview

Hannah Wilks in Tennis 7 Sep 2017

Madison Keys takes on CoCo Vandeweghe tonight in the US Open semi-finals, with the winner set to make their first appearance in a Grand Slam final.

Keys and Vandeweghe, two of the most explosive players in women’s tennis, will face off for a spot in their first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open on Thursday night. We are assured of an American champion at Flushing Meadows on Saturday as Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens prepare to do battle in the first semi-final, but who will join one of them in the final?

Vandeweghe already has experience of playing a major semi-final in 2017 after advancing that far at the Australian Open, while Keys is playing her second slam semi after also reaching that stage in Melbourne, back in 2015. It will be their third match of the summer, with Keys winning both their duels in the Bank of the West Classic final in Stanford and the opening round of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. But who will win the big one as Keys and Vandeweghe take to court around 8.30pm local time on Thursday (1.30am BST, Friday)?

It’s quite ironic that the first U.S. Open since 1981 with four American semi-finalists will be without arguably the greatest player of all time, six-time champion Serena Williams. However we are guaranteed a remarkable success story no matter who captures the trophy on Saturday - either Venus Williams will complete an inspiring fightback to the top of women’s tennis with a first U.S. Open title since 2001, or a first-time Grand Slam champion will be crowned, with Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe all attempting to make a maiden major final on Thursday night.

After successfully navigating tough third and fourth round three-set matches against Indian Wells champion Elena Vesnina and in-form fourth seed Elina Svitolina, Keys enjoyed a much more straightforward night in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, easing past resurgent Estonian qualifier Kaia Kanepi 6-3 6-3. Keys never allowed a visibly nervous Kanepi to find her range, completely dictating from the baseline with authoritative groundstrokes, blasting 23 winners, while she was also lethal on serve with eight aces as she made a statement inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Keys admitted she felt pressure before the match to complete the all-American line-up of semi-finalists, but she was jubilant post-match after reaching her first U.S. Open semi-final.

"This feels really good," an elated Keys said in her post-match press conference.

"The fact that there is going to be two all-American semifinals, two people in the finals in Saturday, and there are lots of young up-and-comers. I think there is a lot of good American tennis to come."

Comebacks have been the theme of this U.S. Open, and Keys certainly has her story to tell. The 22-year-old experienced a career-best season in 2016, winning the Premier-level Aegon Classic in Birmingham, finishing runner-up at Premier-5 events in Rome and Montreal and making the semi-finals of the Premier Mandatory China Open in Beijing, results that catapulted her to a season-ending ranking of No. 7 after making her WTA Finals Singapore debut. However, Keys was forced to undergo wrist surgery at the end of 2016, forcing her out of the Australian Open in January, and after a tentative comeback, she underwent a second procedure just after Roland Garros in order to free a trapped nerve.

Keys finally got her 2017 season going to launch the U.S. Open Series, registering that aforementioned victory over Vandeweghe to claim her third WTA title (and first on hardcourt) at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, while after pulling out of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, she held three match points over eventual champion Garbine Muguruza in the R16 at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, ultimately succumbing in three. But Keys has taken her game to new heights in New York after two consecutive R16 U.S. Open exits, and now she’s just one win away from contesting for a Grand Slam title.

CoCo Vandeweghe (Photo by JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
CoCo Vandeweghe, like Keys, is an Australian Open semi-finalist, but her run to the final four came earlier this season in January when she beat defending champion Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza before falling to Venus Williams. Three years older than her close friend and compatriot Keys at 25, Vandeweghe had a quiet spell on tour after Melbourne, making just one quarter-final until the grass season, and that was a crushing 6-1 6-1 loss to Simona Halep at the Mutua Madrid Open.

Vandeweghe missed Rome and lost in the second round of the French Open to Magdalena Rybarikova, but she picked things up again in transitioning to grass under the tutelage of Pat Cash, making the quarter-finals of Birmingham and Wimbledon, where she beat Caroline Wozniacki in the latter before again falling at the hands of the resurgent Rybarikova. Vandeweghe bounced back strongly to reach the Stanford final, but she lost a bit of momentum with opening round losses in Toronto and Cincinnati to Agnieszka Radwanska and Keys respectively.

However it obviously didn’t matter, with Vandeweghe roaring to life again in New York to advance into her second Grand Slam semi-final of the season. Vandeweghe avenged her Toronto loss to Radwanska in the third round before taking out a pair of Czech stars - firstly former top 10 player Lucie Safarova in the R16 before producing some spectacular tennis to dethrone Karolina Pliskova of the No. 1 ranking, knocking out last year’s U.S. Open runner-up 7-6(4) 6-3.

"I think it's a lot of validated work," Vandeweghe said after the win. "Really happy with how I was able to close out the match in the fashion that I did and in front of the crowd today."

It’s quite remarkable that having never played each other before the summer, that Keys and Vandeweghe will be facing each other for the third time in four tournaments. There won’t be many secrets or rallies out there between the two American powerhouses. Both will be aiming to gain the initial control of baseline exchanges and to set up points with their booming serves. It will come down to a combination of execution and who can hold their nerve under pressure. I think Keys is a little more damaging at her best and she’s played five night session matches on Ashe already this tournament. Vandeweghe will always be in with a great chance if her thunderous game peaks, but I give the advantage to Keys on Thursday night.


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US Open - Madison Keys vs CoCo Vandeweghe semi-final preview

Madison Keys takes on CoCo Vandeweghe tonight in the US Open semi-finals, with the winner set to make their first appearance in a Grand Slam final.

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