Madison Keys had not defeated Simona Halep in more than five years and on Thursday, it appeared a victory over the current Wimbledon champion might slip through her fingers. Keys eventually contained her emotions to battle past Halep, 6-1, 3-6, 7-5, setting a quarterfinal clash in Cincinnati with Venus Williams.
“I’m really happy after losing my lead in the third set, I was able to get back,” Keys said on-court afterwards. “It definitely reminds me that when I’m in the right mindset and playing some good tennis, I can compete with anyone.”
After defeating Halep in the pair’s first meeting at the start of the 2014 season in Sydney, Keys was on the losing end of five consecutive encounters, including four in 2016. The two were facing off for the first time since the 2016 WTA Finals, where Halep overwhelmed the American in a 6-2, 6-4 round-robin win.
Much like the rollercoasters present in the backdrop of the Western & Southern Open grounds, their third-round clash Thursday had plenty of twists and turns. After missing five opportunities to open a 4-0 lead in the decisive set, Keys erased four break points, reaching game point four times before double-faulting to lose her break advantage.
Keys was unable to convert a match point at 5-4 and as Halep looked all but certain to force a tiebreaker with a 40-0 lead, the 2017 US Open finalist snatched the final momentum shift. Keys went for broke on return, putting Halep on her back foot. The strategy paid off: the big-hitting baseliner slammed the door shut with a forehand winner to the delight of her home crowd.