How much can a single shot mean for a player's season? We may find out when Madison Keys will travel to New York next week and try to win her first Grand Slam title at the US Open.
The shot I think of came at the end of their opening round against Garbine Muguruza in Cincinnati. Keys had suffered a nightmare defeat at their last event in Toronto when she wasted the triple match point against Donna Vekic and lost in a tie-break in the third set. In addition, Keys in Muguruza now faced an opponent, which they had defeated in 2017 in the same places in Cincinnati in another third game.
This time, however, when Keys reached the matchpoint 5: 4 in the third set against the Spaniard, she was able to banish all these memories and demons from her mind and achieve a profitable backhand return. It seemed to me that with this shot a weight had been taken from Keys shoulders. She met it with a self-esteem that we had not often seen her face in recent months, and left with a renewed sense of faith and purpose.
And so she played the rest of the way in Cincinnati: Like a player who had turned a switch and switched from doubtful to self-assured on a successful stroke of the bat. The keys defeated Simona Halep, Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin and Svetlana Kuznetsova in succession, dropping only one set. Instead of wasting the leads, Keys won the important points late in the set. Rather than swinging back and forth between winners and mistakes as she often did, she shaped and formed her punches and won rallies with two- and three-ball combinations instead of all-or-nothing attacks behind the baseline.
"I think it was the first time in a long while that I played just a little bit more in myself and did not try too much too soon," Keys said after Halep's next win quarterfinals. "I think I've trusted myself a bit and have not held back on any of my recordings."
The same was true for the final on Sunday, which saw Keys 7-5, 7-6 (5 ). In both sets against Kuznetsova Keys fell back after an early break. But instead of letting these sets go or getting discouraged, she took her time and even scored 5: 5. As always, Keys won with their powerful serves and landslides that Kuznetsova could not match. The American prevailed 43-13 in the winning standings. But she also held her own in the long rallies and won many of them by patiently pulling down Kuznetsova and pushing her back instead of trying to hit the ball through her.
] This was the version of Keys that I thought we would see more of her after driving her title in Charleston in April. But for the most part, apart from a quarter-final run at the French Open, she had not built that score. When it came to grass and hard courts that were once their best surfaces, Keys fought.
"Just one of those things that felt like it was very close to the click," Keys said of her summer losses. "It just was not yet."
"Obviously the match against Garbiñe, it kinda started everything, I mean, this match was huge for me and I figured that out … I feel like I've played a bit better with every match since then
Can she take that momentum? The opening? If the tournament starts tomorrow, I could make Keys favorites to win everything, but even after a week off, the 2017 finalist has returned
"It feels a bit better, a little less stressed out," Keys said of her expectations for the Open. "Ask me again in a week and I'll be just as stressed out."
"It obviously feels good to find this level right in front of a slam."
Keys is among the best players in the sport who have never won one's head This one shot and one win will eventually get you there?