World No.1 Angelique Kerber needed just over an hour to diffuse Madison Keys in straight sets to advance for the first time in her career into the semifinals at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.
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Keys came into the matchup with her destiny on her racquet; she needed to just one set off the German in order to qualify for the semifinals. But instead it was Kerber - who was already through after Simona Halep's loss earlier in the day - who kept Keys in check to advance 6-3, 6-3.
"I knew that I'm already in the semis, but still I'm always going out there to win the match," Kerber said. "I think I learned so much from the last match what I lost here against Safarova one year ago. I think today it was easier, but I was trying to not thinking about this, that I'm already in the semis.
"I was trying to going out there and playing the match, because I know that Madison was in the same situation I was in last year."
Keys' huge serve is one of the hallmarks of the American's game; she sits at No.3 on the list of WTA ace leaders for the year, only trailing Karolina Pliskova and Serena Williams. But against Kerber, her big weapon seemed to lack its usual bite - she was serving at a relatively low 61 percent of first serves, and didn't hit a single ace despite her match average being 5 aces.
This explains the stop-start rhythm of the first set; Keys struggled to hold serve - and Kerber fired off four double faults - as the pair traded five consecutive breaks. Finally it was Kerber who attacked Keys' vulnerable second serve to earn the decisive one for a 4-3 lead, breaking once more to take the second set.
After a chat with her coach Keys came out firing on all cylinders, breaking Kerber in the first game of the second set and keeping her under pressure with her aggressive groundstrokes. But the World No.1 kept her cool as Keys struggled to keep up that level; Kerber rattled off five games in a row to turn the set around and build up a 5-2 lead before closing out the match.
"I let nerves get the best of me, and I think that happens to everyone," Keys said in her post-match press conference. "Just something that I need to work on. It's not a bad thing. It happens to a lot of people. People figure it out. Obviously I'm not the best at it at 21. Hopefully there are a couple more years to figure that out."
"But overall, it's an amazing experience to be here. I worked really hard to get here so I'm proud of myself for that. Hopefully this is just one of the many times I'm in the Finals, and I can get better and better at dealing with the nerves."
With the commanding victory, Kerber is through to the semifinals for the first time; she's never advanced past group stage in her previous three WTA Finals appearances. And with Dominika Cibulkova winning in straight sets earlier in the day, Kerber's win also assures that Cibulkova advances in the Red Group and into the semifinals.