By Shannon Russell
Eight days after defeating fellow American and friend CoCo Vandeweghe for the Stanford title, Madison Keys beat her again at the Western & Southern Open.
The rematch between No. 17 Keys and No. 21 Vandeweghe was as dramatic as anticipated, requiring a decisive third set at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason. Vandeweghe staved off three match points before Keys prevailed in a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory on Center Court.
“It’s never easy,” Keys said of playing the same opponent in short order. “You’re kind of expecting something similar but she could obviously come out and do some things different. It’s kind of nerve wracking, to be honest.”
Big-serving Vandeweghe changed her tactics a bit, forcing longer rallies, but Keys adjusted. She went up a break after Vandeweghe struggled to find consistency and dumped the ball into the net.
Although Keys held serve to finish out the first set, firing a backhand winner and pumping her fist in triumph, she struggled to convert break points in the second set.
That’s when Vandeweghe seized control. Eleven of Keys’ first 18 unforced errors were courtesy of her backhand.
Keys requested her coach after the second set and then broke Vandeweghe for the 3-0 advantage. Although Vandeweghe battled back, Keys served out the win.
“It’s never fun (playing a friend), especially when you’re as close as CoCo and I are…but it happens and we’re used to it. And at the end of the day, at least one American gets through,” Keys said.
SPEAKING OF AMERICANS: Eleven U.S. players began main draw match play Monday. Six advanced to the second round.
In addition to Keys’ defeat of Vandeweghe, wild card Tommy Paul defeated countryman Donald Young 6-4, 7-6 (4), qualifier Mitchell Krueger downed Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-1, wild card Frances Tiafoe ousted qualifier Maximilian Marterer 6-3, 7-6 (2), and World No. 20 Sam Querrey sailed past fellow American Stefan Kozlov 6-3, 6-0.
Lauren Davis exited the tournament after a straight sets loss to Beatriz Haddad. But fellow U.S. player Taylor Townsend edged Monica Puig in a battle of qualifiers, clinching a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in nearly two hours.
Lucky loser Ramkumar Ramanathan defeated American qualifier Christopher Eubanks 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4 in the last match on Center Court.
A DEEPER DIVE: Paul defeated Young on Grandstand Court to start the day, denying Young his career-first W&S Open win. Young, 28, is now 0-4 at the tournament.
Paul, 20, harnessed his hot play of late – quarterfinal appearances in Atlanta and Washington – and claimed the first set. The real drama came in the second-set tiebreaker after Young rallied from a 0-4 deficit.
Paul’s tiebreak advantage eventually dangled precariously at 5-4, but he closed out the match efficiently. His reward? A meeting with another American foe, hard-serving World No. 19 John Isner, at 7 p.m. Tuesday on Center Court.
World No. 20 Querrey spoiled the debut of Kozlov, who lost in W&S Open qualifying rounds in 2015 and 2016 and made the main draw by virtue of his wild card.
Querrey broke his 19-year-old opponent in the seventh game of the first set to set the tone for victory. While five of Querrey’s seven aces came in the first set, Kozlov was simply overwhelmed in the second set. The match took just 51 minutes to complete.
SIGNS OF AGING?: The withdrawal of seven-time Western & Southern Open champion Roger Federer (back ailment) ensures Rafael Nadal’s return to the No. 1 spot in the next ATP World Tour rankings.
Nadal, the 2013 W&S Open champion, spoke to media Monday at the Paul Flory Player Center. Not only is he the tournament’s top-seeded player, but he’s now the only Top 6 ranked player in the men’s draw. Two-time W&S Open champ Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and Federer have been sidelined with injuries.
Although Nadal called their absences a coincidence and “unlucky for the tournament,” the Spaniard also said age probably played a role. Aside from defending W&S Open champion Cilic (28), they’re all 30 and older.
“Of course we are not 20 years old anymore. Andy is 30, or going to be 30. Novak too. I am 31. Roger is 36. So we’re not playing all the weeks,” Nadal said. “That’s part of our sport too. I have been in that position a lot of times. I had to skip for sure much more events than the rest of my competitors during my career. For sure I missed more events than Roger, than Novak, than Andy. So I feel that’s part of the sport and I accept it.”
Nadal wished his peers good recoveries. That list grew to include Gael Monfils, 30, who withdrew from the tournament due to illness.
“They are so important. We hope to see them back on the tour,” Nadal said.
PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES: Simona Halep’s first trip in a private plane was so harrowing that it may be her last.
After the 2015 W&S Open finalist lost to eventual champion Elina Svitolina in the Rogers Cup semifinals last week in Toronto, she said her coach, Darren Cahill, suggested a different type of transport to Mason: A chartered plane.
Halep, ranked second in the WTA rankings, had never taken a private flight.
“I said, ‘OK, let’s take it.’ He arranged everything, all good. We went there like 5 minutes before. Everything was OK,” Halep said during Monday’s WTA round table interview session. “The first time when I saw the plane I was scared to get on. He said, ‘OK, be calm. It’s going to be OK.’”
Actually, it wasn’t. The aircraft was too small, wobbly and closed-in for Halep. She said she turned white and cold as the flight progressed.
“We had to stop in Buffalo because of the customs and I said, ‘That’s enough. I’m not going to go again in that plane.’ So I got a car and I came by car. Six hours driving,” Halep said.
Halep drove two hours and Cahill drove four while her physio and trainer continued by plane. The driving part of the trip, Halep said, was much more enjoyable – for her, anyway.
“I’m sorry for (Cahill), but it was funny,” Halep said.
Halep is vying for a career-first No. 1 ranking. So are Karolina Pliskova, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki, setting up a wild week at the tournament.
NEW THREADS: Hundreds of fans crowded around World No. 9 Venus Williams at the Midwest Sports Clothing & Souvenirs tent Monday afternoon for a question-and-answer session.
Williams talked a bit about tennis, encouraging aspiring tennis pros to “believe in yourselves” and extolling the benefits of hard work. She also discussed her new EleVen by Venus Williams clothing company and its new needlepoint line.
Asked how she balances tennis with her other interests, and the creativity required for the latter, she said she takes time between matches to make design decisions. Tennis, though, remains her priority.
“I got up at 8 a.m. to work in my backspin and topspin. I keep pushing,” Williams said.
Williams opens the tournament against fellow American Alison Riske at 1 p.m. Tuesday on Center Court.