They are two of the future faces of women’s tennis so when Madison Keys and Monica Puig square off on an outside court at Wimbledon, it is a glimpse at a rivalry, which may eventually find its place in the latter rounds of a major.
Granted there is no guarantee either will reach those summits, but with both coming off maiden tour titles only a month apart coming into The Championships, it shaped as a handy benchmark as to just how far they had come.
The match ended comfortably in 19-year-old Keys’ favour; the American running out a 6-3, 6-3 winner in 68 minutes and it follows an impressive breakthrough at Eastbourne last week where she kissed a tour-level trophy for the first time after routing German top-tenner Angelique Kerber in the final.
“Obviously I'm feeling pretty confident, especially on grass right now. Just feeling like I can play entire tournaments and I'm actually able to go out and win. That's definitely a good feeling,” the world No.30 said.
Puerto Rican Puig had won a title only a month earlier on the clay in Strasbourg. She defeated Keys in straight sets along the way there, the second time in as many meetings she had beaten her younger rival.
Both those matches, though, were played on clay and a lot has happened in that short space of time for Keys. “As of right now, it's definitely the biggest milestone of mine [winning Eastbourne on Saturday]. If something else surpasses that, I will let you know,” Keys said.
An ace and a huge wrong-footing crosscourt forehand error gave the American three set points in the opening set. She took it when Puig pushed long on the return and broke early with a big backhand crosscourt pass on the run for 2-1 in the second.
Puig had tasted success on the grass before having reached the fourth round at Wimbledon on debut last year, where she defeated then-No.5 seed Sara Errani en route.
But against the heavy striking of an opponent riding a wave of confidence, she was up against it from the start. Her frustration finally boiled over when called for a foot fault deep in the second set.
“Can you stop calling foot faults. Every second serve,” the 20-year-old fumed at a line judge before saving a slew of break points to stay in the hunt at 3-4.
Serving to stay in the contest, however, Puig handed her opponent match point with a double fault. A big first serve and a scream of “fight” kept her hopes alive before a second double fault put Keys within a point of victory once more.
A netted backhand sealed Puig’s fate. Keys had notched her first victory over her young rival and Americans were again daring to dream about their next great hope.
“I don't think there is any amount of pressure that another person could put on us that we don't put on ourselves,” Keys said. “I think we've lived with the internal pressure and wanting to do well for so long, we're not really concerned with the country's pressure.”
That’s six straight wins on the grass and counting. No pressure, though.
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