Madison Keys was a candid as they come when asked to explain the topsy-turvy nature of her 7-5 5-7 6-4 loss to qualifier Evgeniya Rodina in the third round at Wimbledon.
“Honestly I think today was a massive mishandle of nerves,” the 10th seed said.
Keys led 5-2 in the first set, lost nine straight games to trail 5-7 0-4, survived four break points which would have made that deficit 0-5, managed to drag herself back into the contest … and yet eventually lost anyway.
It prevented a fourth-round meeting with fellow American Serena Williams, a fact of which Keys was keenly aware.
“I had no idea what my draw was and all of a sudden I came in here the other day, it was like, ‘So if you win, then you play this person’. And I think that kept being in the back of my mind,” Keys admitted.
“I’ve gotten so good at playing the one match in front of me, and when you’re up 5-2 and you’re doing well, I felt my mind go.
“I don’t think I did a good job of keeping in the moment and playing the person who was in front of me.”
Serena advanced to the last 16 with a tense 7-5 7-6(2) Centre Court victory over former world No.10 Kristina Mladenovic.
But No.9 seed Venus Williams, playing at the same time on No.1 Court, became the eighth top 10-ranked player to depart when she fell 6-2 6-7(5) 8-6 to 20th seed Kiki Bertens.
Simona Halep ?
Caroline Wozniacki ?
Garbine Muguruza ?
Sloane Stephens ?
Elina Svitolina ?
Caroline Garcia ?
Karolina Pliskova ?
Petra Kvitova ?
Venus Williams ?
Madison Keys ?
Another one gone…
— BBC Tennis (@bbctennis) July 6, 2018
Seventh seed Karolina Pliskova trailed Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-3 3-1 before recovering to record a gritty 3-6 7-6(3) 6-1 victory. She’ll play Bertens for a place in the quarterfinals.
In a Wimbledon championship rife with upsets – six of the top eight women’s seeds had already departed – Keys’ loss had to be one of the more surprising.
Keys had cruised through her first two rounds in straights sets and at this stage of her career is an experienced campaigner at the business end of Grand Slam events, with a US Open final plus Australian and French Open semifinals already on her CV. She’s yet to go as far at the All England Club, but did reach the quarterfinals in 2015.
And for a player who has struggled with injuries as much as she has, Keys looked relatively fresh and fit. In fact, it was Rodina who was struggling physically; the Russian was treated for an upper left leg injury early in the third set, perhaps the result of having won five straight matches to get to this point in the draw.
Despite facing a hobbled opponent – who has now progressed further here than at any Slam previously – Keys continued to spray the ball, finishing with 48 unforced errors to Rodina’s 11. She recovered from 3-1 down in the final set to level at 4-4 but was broken in the final game to fall in two hours and 10 minutes.
“I think that I was distracted for a game or two, and then I became more nervous because I felt like I let a lead slip,” Keys said.
“I have to stay low and commit to my shots and go for them. I think I started playing passive. I kind of started playing not to lose, which doesn’t usually work out well for me. Then it kind of quickly spiralled into being down 4-0 in the second set.
“It’s a lot easier when you’re down, it just becomes, I have to get back. So you have that in your mind. And then you get back to even and it’s, okay, I could win again. So I think I was just constantly playing back and forth between playing too passive and then getting my mind back right and playing better.
“I think the biggest thing is talking to my team and just being really open and honest, and I think together we can come up with a plan that if I feel myself going that way, then it’s just something that I immediately (catch myself on).”
Serena’s victory sets up a win with Rodina. In just her fourth tournament back since giving birth to daughter Olympia, the 36-year-old has looked better and better with each match.
“I’m feeling pretty good. I haven’t had any problems yet. I think taking those three weeks off (after getting injured at Roland Garros) just doing absolutely no serving, just a ton of rehab for my shoulder, really helped,” she said.
Serena Williams Average 1st-serve speed
Round 1: 103
Round 2: 105
Round 3: 107
Serena Williams Fastest serve:
Round 1: 115
Round 2: 117
Round 3: 119#Wimbledon
— TennisNow (@Tennis_Now) July 6, 2018
“I just feel like, okay, I have nothing to lose at this point. I want to try harder. I think to myself, Is this the best that I can do? Can I do more? Lot of things go through my brain. Sometimes other things go through my brain. So yeah, I just keep going.”
Venus, however, was made to pay for another slow start. The elder Williams in her previous two matches dropped the first set but won in three.
Against the seeded Bertens, she couldn’t afford such a lapse.
The Dutchwoman came close to beating Venus in the last 32 in Miami earlier this year before falling 7-5 in the third. On Friday at the All England Club, she reversed that result in a dramatic two-hour, 40-minute slugfest.
“I think she was just a little bit luckier than I was in the end,” Venus said in another perfunctory press conference. “Sometimes it takes luck and skill. You know, she definitely deserved that one.”
Added Bertens: “I just kept telling myself that I had, like, a chance today again. Like, I played a really good match, played aggressive, what I also did in Miami.
“I was just like, Okay, keep going for it, then you see. In the end, I was lucky enough to win today.”
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