STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Madison Keys and CoCo Vandeweghe had never played on opposite sides of the net, just together on Fed Cup for the U.S., bonding and becoming friends during that extended stay in Australia in April last year.
They sure put on an entertaining show of tennis when they finally faced off for the first time Sunday.
Third-seeded Keys outslugged No. 6 Vandeweghe 7-6 (4), 6-4 to win the Bank of the West Classic in a thrilling display of power and serving by the two young American stars in their first career matchup. Afterward, they hugged and Keys playfully sat on her opponent’s lap.
Keys couldn’t quite believe it took them this long to meet up in a match that mattered. She won her third career singles title and first on hardcourt playing under cloudless skies at Stanford.
The champ finally got her chance by rallying back to deuce in the ninth game of the second set, when Vandeweghe surrendered her first service game after she saved two break points moments earlier. Vandeweghe hadn’t dropped a set all tournament until the final.
“It feels amazing to have a title at home and on hardcourt,” Keys said. “It means a lot. It’s my first title in the States against a friend.”
After smacking a clean crosscourt forehand winner on match point, Keys raised her hands in the air in triumph then gave Vandeweghe a hug at the net before waving to the crowd. Keys stayed after the trophy ceremony to sign autographs.
Keys, who missed the first two months of the season following surgery on her left wrist, eliminated Wimbledon champion and top-seeded Garbine Muguruza 6-3, 6-2 in just 57 minutes Saturday night to snap Muguruza’s nine-match winning streak and advance to her first final this year.
A day later, Keys needed nearly that amount of time to win the first-set tiebreaker: The opening set lasted 53 minutes then the second just 35. Keys brilliantly returned serve and routinely pumped in her own serves from 114-118 mph to keep Vandeweghe on the defensive.
There were times during her wrist rehab she wondered if her tennis would ever return to top form.
These two generate so much power from their tall frames. Vandeweghe is 6 foot 1 and Keys stands 5 foot 10.
“It was a high quality match from both players,” Vandeweghe said. “It was definitely a really tight two-set match. It was fun to play. It was fun to kind of play a friend and have an all-American final. It was enjoyable, not so much enjoyable losing but it was a high-quality match and that’s all you can ask for from yourself is to try the best you can to the best of your abilities.”
The 22-year-old Keys had never won a championship on home soil. She began the seventh game of the first set with back-to-back aces clocked at 118 mph and 116, but after a backhand into the net and a double fault she suddenly faced break point. A backhand winner down the line got Keys right back in the game and she held.
“I just knew that if I kept hanging in on my service games hopefully I would have a chance to break,” she said. “I knew there probably weren’t going to be very many opportunities.”
In an event missing the marquee names such as the Williams sisters and Maria Sharapova – who pulled out with a left arm injury ahead of her second match Wednesday – these two shined, pounding groundstrokes to keep long points alive, chasing down balls in every corner and holding serve all afternoon until that one decisive break.
Keys came back from one set and a break down in her opening match to beat Caroline Dolehide, the lone set the champion lost all week.
This marked the 12th final between two Americans in tournament history and first since Vandeweghe’s defeat to Serena Williams in 2012 – and Vandeweghe, 25, reached her first final in the U.S. since that runner-up finish and just second ever.
Keys played at Stanford for the first time and captured her first title since winning on grass at Birmingham last summer. She earns $132,380 and Vandeweghe $70,550.
Both women are projected to return to the top-20 in rankings when they are released Monday.
Keys is counting on some momentum from this win.
“It definitely feels really good,” she said. “It hasn’t been the easiest season, but it finally feels like I’m on the right track and feeling really good about my tennis again.”