Kudermetova ousts Keys for first Slam quarter

 - Dan Imhoff

No.29 seed denies former semi-finalist in Paris to set Kasatkina clash

Veronika Kudermetova, Roland Garros 2022, fourth round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Veronika Kudermetova will contest her maiden Grand Slam singles quarter-final, against Daria Kasatkina, after reeling in a fast-starting Madison Keys on a sun-bathed Court Philippe-Chatrier on Monday.

In a first meeting on red clay between the two green clay former champions of Charleston, the 29th seed absorbed the American’s blustery blows with greater consistency to turn the contest on its head 1-6, 6-3, 6-1.

Kudermetova had enjoyed a smoother path to the second week, thanks largely to the mid-match retirement of third seed Paula Badosa in the previous round.

The American had spent almost 2.5 times more time on court through her first four matches with her only straight-sets result a tightly-contested affair against Caroline Garcia in the second round.

Her subsequent triumph over Elena Rybakina in a third-set tiebreak was a reminder how damaging she could be on any surface when firing on all cylinders and finding her range.

Veronika Kudermetova, Roland Garros 2022, fourth round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Story of the match

A free-swinging Keys is renowned for generating more than a few headaches when her formidable, heavy strikes are on song.

Something had to give if Kudermetova was to avoid a blowout after a lop-sided 33-minute opening set.

Her opponent was clocking more than three times the winners and was infinitely more effective at landing and winning her first serves, dropping just three points when she found the mark.

A fearsome foe when she found her spots, Keys’ headaches became increasingly self-inflicted from there on in.

The 27-year-old’s Achilles heel was often controlling her at times unbridled power and her opponent began to read her play more successfully.

An early break in the second set ultimately proved the turning point.

Keys was living dangerously as she clobbered her returns, despite staring down triple set point at 3-5, but her defence from the baseline kept the set alive.

Three more chances went begging before Kudermetova screamed towards her coach and husband Sergei Demekhin as if to say “where was that when I needed it?” after she rifled a backhand into the corner before levelling the match.

The American had lost her past three matches on clay leading in but had the superior big-match Grand Slam experience, including in Paris four years ago.

In January, she reached her first major semi-final since 2018 with upsets of seeds Sofia Kenin, Paula Badosa and Barbora Krejcikova before she ran into eventual champion Ashleigh Barty.

Madison Keys, Roland-Garros 2022, fourth round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

There were too many unforced errors off the forehand wing early in the deciding set as she was broken in the opening game and her body language was decidedly down as she conceded the double break.  

With former world No.1 Lindsay Davenport back in Keys’ corner on Chatrier.

Keys determined it was all or nothing at this point and plucked off three stinging baseline winners to pull back one break.

It was merely momentary reprieve as Kudermetova immediately steadied and set about reimposing control.

She never ceded momentum again and closed out the clash on another break for a showdown with 20th seed Daria Kasatkina after one hour and 41 minutes.

Key stats

The match was largely a tale of two one-sided sets. Keys started on fire, winning 81 per cent of first-serve points to the 25-year-old’s 58 per cent in the first set, while neither one more than two points on their second deliveries.

Both found their range on serve in the second set before Kudermetova’s marked improvement on service returns dealt a critical blow in the third.

She claimed 67 per cent of receiving points in the final set to Keys’ 41 per cent and converted four of five break points.

What the players said

“I tried to trust myself. I tried to believe. I tried to fight, I think that was the key,” Kudermetova said.

“Sometimes to keep playing harder or sometimes to play with spin, a little bit smarter. I think I did a really good job today. It's amazing, it's amazing. I can say only this.”

Kudermetova explained the juggling act of separating home and tennis life when married to her coach.

“So my coach is my husband… I have another coach and unfortunately he's not here, he's in the US now. We try to split (life) and tennis. Of course, when we're on the tennis court we speak about only tennis.”