In the last big tune-up event before the US Open, American Madison Keys won the biggest title of her career in defeating a vintage Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 7-6 (5) at the Western & Southern Open.
Here are our takeaways from the Western & Southern Open:
Madison Keys, US Open dark horse: Other than a title in Charleston in early April, it had been a relatively quiet year for American Madison Keys. Off the clay, the World No. 18 arrived in Cincinnati with little momentum, having lost in the second round at Wimbledon, followed by two consecutive first-round losses in Washington and Toronto. However, the 2016 Wuhan Open quarter-finalist was able to rein in her considerable power, hitting lots of jaw-dropping winners with relatively few errors. Her run to the title this week included wins over four Grand Slam champions, namely Garbine Muguruza, Simona Halep, Venus Williams, and Kuznetsova.
Svetlana Kuznetsova’s feel-good run: The tennis gods finally seem to be giving 34-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova a much-needed break. The 2004 US Open champ has been battling with wrist and knee injuries which kept her off the court for the first quarter of the year. She’s endured a string of first- and second-round losses and visa problems kept her from entering the US to defend her title in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago. It just seems right that the stars aligned for a vintage run from the 2016 Wuhan Open semi-finalist, notching wins over No. 8 Sloane Stephens, No. 3 Karolina Pliskova, and No. 1 Ashleigh Barty.
The US women are peaking in time for their home slam: In addition to Keys, Sofia Kenin continued her excellent form in 2019, defeating seventh seed Elina Svitolina and beating a World No. 1 for the second consecutive week, taking out Naomi Osaka on the way to the quarterfinals. Venus Williams also put together a nice string of results, beating fifth seed and defending champion Kiki Bertens before bowing out to Keys in the quarters. The 2015 Wuhan Open champ had lost in the first round in her previous three tournaments.
Injuries a wildcard factor: Injuries continue to cast a shadow over US Open favorites. This week, Petra Kvitova returned to the court for the first time since Wimbledon, rehabilitating a forearm injury that forced her to skip Roland Garros, most of the grass court season and last week’s tournament in Toronto. Her comeback was short, falling to Maria Sakkari in her first match back. Maria Sharapova is also on the comeback trail from shoulder surgery, winning one match this week, then bowing out in the second round to Barty. Other retirements in Cincinnati included twelfth seed Belinda Bencic (left foot) and Naomi Osaka (left knee).
World No. 1 ranking still in play: Two women had the chance to unseat Naomi Osaka for the top ranking this week. Players have been jostling for pole position all year, but this week’s results were important because seedings at the US Open will be based on what happens in Cincinnati. However, a resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova took out both hopefuls in succession, dispatching Karolina Pliskova in the quarters and Ashleigh Barty in the semis, meaning Osaka will enter the US Open as both defending champion and World No. 1.