Stephens and Keys usher in new era

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NEW YORK – When history looks back on the 2017 US Open women’s singles final, it won’t be very kind to the actual tennis that was played.

But no one inside Arthur Ashe Stadium is likely to feel they were shortchanged.

Everything else from the moment Madison Keys’ final forehand went into the net, and her friend Sloane Stephens won the US Open, was pitch-perfect on every possible level.

It will go down as of a fine testament to perseverance through adversity, to sportsmanship, to a mother’s love an dedication, to friendship, to grace and poise under pressure – and, oh yes, to American tennis.

And, to African-Americans in tennis.

Stephens won her first Grand Slam title in just a few ticks over an hour, beating Keys 6-3, 6-0 and completing a comeback that had her outside the top 900 in the world just five weeks ago.

Her first reaction was disbelief. And then, the million-dollar, megawatt smile appeared. But there was no over-the-top celebrating, conscious as she was that her great triumph was simultaneously her good friend’s defeat.

A roller coaster women’s event

The 24-year-old was the last woman standing at the end of a US Open that, on the women’s side, was a roller coaster ride of emotions. Many top seeds went out early. The deck was being reshuffled every day.

And in the end, the last four women standing were all American, at America’s Slam.

There was 37-year-old Venus Williams, the sentimental favourite. Coco Vandeweghe, the brash one. And then there were Stephens and Keys, two players who – were it not for Venus and sister Serena – might never have dreamed they could be standing there on the final Saturday on the biggest stage in tennis.

Stephens, ranked No. 83 coming in, was the only unseeded player of the four. 

Foes briefly, friends always

The two finalists are friends; afterwards, Stephens called Keys her “best friend in tennis.”

She felt for her friend. And she knew that the 22-year-old Keys, her right thigh tightly wrapped, was not 100 per cent physically.

Stephens

When it was over, they both arrived at the net with their arms outstretched, ready to celebrate and commiserate in the same long, lengthy embrace. Keys was in tears, and Stephens was close to tears herself trying to console her friend at what was the watershed moment of her own career. 

I think at the end of a Slam, whoever is still on the court is physically going to be feeling something. But I definitely think my play today came down to nerves and all of that, and I just don’t think I handled the occasion perfectly,” Keys said. “I don’t think I was moving perfectly, but at the same time, I’m not going to take anything away from Sloane. She played really well. I don’t think I played great. I think that’s kind of a combination for a disaster for me.”

Not five minutes later, Stephens crossed the net and went over to sit with Keys to await the trophy ceremony. In no time, she had the disconsolate Keys laughing.

Stephens

“To play her here, I wouldn’t have wanted to play anyone else. I told her I wish there could be a draw, I wish we could have both won. If it were the other way around, she would have done the same for me,” Stephens said during the trophy presentation. “I’m going to support her no matter what and she’s going to support me no matter what. That’s what real friendship is.”

The “village” of Sloane Stephens

When Stephens made her way up to the player’s box, there was a long hug for Kamau Murray.

Stephens has had a few coaches in her career. And none ever seemed to fit quite right. From Nick Saviano to Thomas Hogstedt and even Paul Annacone for a brief period, there was never quite the right connection that would get the best out of a supremely talented player, but one seemed to lack the inner drive to maximize it.

Murray has been in the picture for two years, through Stephens’ 11-month absence because of a foot surgery. It seems he was able to help light the fire, stoke the belief. Being out of the game nearly a year also will give a player rather a different perspective on things.

And then, there was one final hug for mother Sybil Smith.

Stephens
Stephens is outwardly steely, so the emotional moment with her mother – the culmination of a long journey together – was as meaningful as they come.

It was then that the tears began to flow.

“We’ve been on such a journey together. My mom is incredible. When I was 11 years old my mom took me to a tennis academy and one of the director there told my mom I’d be lucky to play Division II tennis and get a scholarship,” Stephens said. “So, parents: never give up on your kids if they want to do something. Always encourage them … If someone ever tells you your kid’s not going to be good, push them to the side. Because your kid could be me one day.”

Good matchup for Stephens

Stephens’ poise in her first major final belied the nerves she felt beforehand, the nerves Keys felt beforehand. Really, the biggest thing to come out of Stephens’ summer run was her outward calm under pressure as she piled up some impressive wins.

The match against Keys was always going to be Keys’ power against the combination of qualies Stephens brings to the court: speed, consistency, the ability to build points and to know when to up the power gauge and rip one.

When she was told in her press conference just how consistent she had been, she was as shocked as she was when she saw the size of the $3.7 million check she was handed on court.

“I made six unforced errors in the whole match? Shut the front door. I don’t think that’s ever happened to me before. Oh, my God. That’s a stat,” she said. “I was nervous, and before the match, I was super nervous. Once I got out there, I felt a lot better. So that was good. I just tried to stay calm and keep my composure and run every ball down. That was it. Super simple.”

Beyond tennis, an epochal moment

That the two finalists are African-American – in Keys’ case, on her father’s side – was just part of the story during that trophy ceremony.

USTA president and CEO Katrina Adams presented the trophies. A woman, and an African-American.

Stephens
“Girl, did you see that check that lady handed me? Like, yes,”

Thasunda Duckett, the CEO of Consumer Banking at JP Morgan Chase, presented the winner’s cheque for $3.7 million to Stephens. She, too, a woman and African-American.

StephensOn so many levels, this was an epochal moment. And especially so with the heavy promotion of the upcoming “Battle of the Sexes” movie over the weekend.

The personal journey of the groundbreaking Billie Jean King took place nearly 45 years ago.

The accomplished women standing there for this trophy ceremony embodied the coming to fruition of so many things King has worked so hard for her entire life.

Not just on the tennis court, but off the court as well.

Fairness. Equality. Opportunity.

Watch out, 2018

For Stephens, it now begins. As the American champion of the American Grand Slam, a beautiful woman with a great back story and a Hollywood smile, her life is going to change.

“This is a whole new level guys. Seriously,” Stephens said during a post-match interview with ESPN.

Stephens
Catastrophe narrowly avoided.

She almost dropped the trophy. She joked about being totally worried about the “boob sweat” factor, knowing that the her photo with the trophy will be blown up and hung up in a lot of places.

Does she want another one?

“Of course. Girl, did you see that check that lady handed me? Like, yes,” Stephens said, eliciting a big laugh. “Man, if that doesn’t make you want to play tennis, I don’t know what will. Man.”

For Keys, two years younger, it’s another sort of beginning. 

She has reached her first major final. Who doubts that in the very short term, she will be holding up the big trophy?

And, in case you missed it, 13-year-old CoCo Gauff and Amanda Anisimova, who turned 16 last week, will play the junior girls’ final Sunday. They’re Americans as well.  

Keys, Stephens win all-American day

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NEW YORK – Whatever happened, there was going to be an all-American women’s singles final Saturday at the US Open.

What was left to be determined Thursday was who the participants would be.

Among the embarrassment of American riches in the final four, only two could advance to the final day.

It was going to be either Venus Williams or Sloane Stephens. And it was going to be either Madison Keys or Coco Vandeweghe.

In the end, it was the two youngest – Stephens, 24 and Madison Keys, 22.

Both of them pulled off bravado performances of very different kinds in the semifinals.

First to get to the finish line was Stephens, who defeated Venus Williams 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 victory that had a little bit of everything.

By the third set, when both were playing well at the same time and giving it everything they had, it was nerve-wracking and dramatic and in doubt until the very end.

“I just wasn’t playing well. I just wasn’t playing well. Those are moments where you have to dig deep and figure out how to get the ball on the court and have a big game. I can’t be tentative and try to figure out how to put that ball in,” Williams said of that first set. “But I figured out a lot, but she played great defense. I haven’t played her in a long time. Clearly she’s seen me play many, many times. I haven’t seen her play as much.”

No solace for Venus

It didn’t matter what the question was, Williams wasn’t having much of it during her press conference. She wasn’t the least bit interested in talking about tributes, or about what a superb season she’s having, or any of that. She showed up to win, and she didn’t get the job done.

Keys
Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, 13 years apart but neck-and-neck at the end to try to get to the US Open women’s singles final.

Williams was the sentimental choice who obviously won’t have that many more opportunities to win another major. But the 37-year-old ran out of legs in the end.

She made a lot of errors, but she didn’t have a lot of options. Whenever the rallies went past a certain length, Stephens won most of them. “Yeah, it was definitely well competed. In the end, she ended up, you know, winning more points than I did. That’s what it adds up to,” she said. 

A month ago, unthinkable

Stephens’  sub-900 ranking just over a month ago has been well-documented. And she needed to use a protected ranking just to get into the US Open, It will be a first Grand Slam singles final.  

It also will be the first for Keys, who crushed Coco Vandweghe 6-1, 6-2 in the nightcap.

“I think it’s amazing. I definitely never envisioned it happening this way, but I couldn’t think of a better person to have this first experience with,” Keys said.

Keys
Venus ran out of gas, though not out of will, by the end of the third set against Sloane Stephens Thursday.

After Williams came back with a roar in the second set, Stephens just tried to stay positive.

“I wasn’t making that many mistakes in the first set. Venus made a lot of errors. I think in the second set, obviously playing Venus, she’s an amazing competitor and she’s been here many times before. She wasn’t going to just give it to me. I think she really stepped up her game in the second set. I mean, you don’t expect anything else from multi-Grand Slam champion. She’s been here before,” Stephens said. “I tried just not to get too down on myself. I knew obviously in the third set I would have to fight my tail off and get my racket on every ball.”

All Keys, from first to last

If the first semifinal was dramatic, the second was one-way traffic – for Keys.

Madison Keys, despite a “something” in her right leg, was pretty sprightly after reaching the US Open women’s singles final Thursday.

The 22-year-old put up a performance of such quality and bravura over Coco Vandeweghe, there wasn’t a single solitary thing her countrywoman could do to stop her.

Even a medical timeout to have her right upper leg wrapped at 6-1, 4-1 didn’t interrupt Keys’ flow. All it did was take a match that would have lasted less than an hour and nudge it over the one-hour mark.

“None of it had anything to do with the occasion. It was more Madison played an unbelievable match. I didn’t really have much to do with anything out there,” Vandeweghe said. 

Vandeweghe was, needless to say, quite upset.

“She was playing a great first set. I thought at some point she might start running a little bit colder than what she was doing. But I mean, it’s really not over until the last point. I was fighting as hard as I could for as long as I could, but she stayed hot the whole time,” Vandeweghe added. “It’s a little bit frustrating right now how I’m feeling of that it wasn’t so much of my say-so. I don’t feel that way very often in my tennis, so I think it’s a little bit of an opportunity lost for me.”

Keys knew she couldn’t have done it much better.

“I played really, really well. It was kind of one of those days where I came out and I was kind of in a zone. And I just kind of forced myself to stay there. I knew I was going to have to play really well in order to beat her. And, you know, I feel like once things started going, it just kind of fell into place. Luckily I was able to close it out the way that I did,” she said. “

At 25, perhaps Coco’s time is now

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NEW YORK – As big as she serves, as hard as she hits the ball, as great an athlete as she is and as much of an all-court game as she plays, Coco Vandeweghe should have been here long before now.

But to each his own journey.

And at 25, perhaps the New York-born, Southern California-raised Vandeweghe is just now putting all of those numerous pieces of her very talented puzzle together.

Vandeweghe defeated the current world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (4), 6-3 in the first women’s quarterfinal at the US Open Wednesday.

The victory made her the third American to win her quarterfinal match over the last two days. Her friend and Fed Cup teammate Madison Keys got it done in the evening match, defeating qualifier Kaia Kanepi 6-3, 6-3.

Keys, like Stephens and Vandeweghe, is into her first US Open semifinal. Venus, as we know, has been there and done that.

And so it was done: the women’s semifinals Thursday night literally will be all-American.

Long road from junior title to final four

This is Vandeweghe’s 11th consecutive appearance at her home-country Grand Slam. And this is the first time she has ever gotten past the second round.

Back in 2008, at age 16, she defeated Kristina Mladenovic in the semis and Gabriela Paz in the final to win the juniors.

“I’m a pretty positive person, so I don’t really look too much at the negatives of my life. I try to move forward as best I can, and I’ve always done that. I’ve always been more of a glass half full,” Vandeweghe said. “I don’t really take too much in previous bad experiences. I take more in the positives and learning curve that you can learn from losses; you can learn from wins.”

Coco
Vandeweghe still wears the same chain and medallion today that she did back in 2008, when she won the junior girls’ event.

But even then, there were moments. Vandeweghe, mother Tauna and her coach really got into it after a match earlier in that 2008 tournament.

Folks were walking by, taking a wide road around them, as the trio got heated about what sounded like some unacceptable on-court behaviour by Vandeweghe.

It went on for 15 minutes; they were completely oblivious to all the people around them.

Coco

Putting the pieces together

Vandeweghe hasn’t changed that much. She’s still a very feisty individual on court. Her language is pretty salty. And her strutting body language can be off-putting to some.

For whatever reason, her association with Aussie Pat Cash (volatile himself as a player) has helped channel all of that.

“I think the biggest thing is channeling my intensity and tenacity out onto the court and putting it into a singular focus. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things he’s implemented into my regimen,” Vandeweghe said.

It is who she is. Vandeweghe’s emotions have hurt her many times on the long road to get to this final four. But they’re also part of a competitive nature that, combined with her great athleticism and multiple on-court skills, may someday make a major champion out of her.

“I think everyone has their favorite, and everyone has their least favorite player. Whatever I am to any person out there, doesn’t really affect me personally. I mean, I have my favorites in every sport and in general. You know, I even have my favorite tennis players,” Vandeweghe said. “So it comes with sports. I think there’s going to be lots of players misunderstood. There’s going to be players that are thought of one way but really they are another way. I think it’s just sports. You grow and you learn and you adjust to the moments.”

It’s taking longer than most expected; that’s equally true of the two other younger semifinalists who will take the court Thursday night.

Fabulous (American) Four

Stephens, 24, has always seemed less ambitious than her peers, for whatever reason. And of all of them, it has always seemed easier for her – at least from the outside. For the last year, Stephens was sidetracked with a foot injury and subsequent surgery. Over the last month, she is back with a vengeance.

Coco
Keys (seen here at junior Wimbledon in 2011 at age 16) had a lot of injuries during her junior days. This year, two wrist procedures held her back. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Keys, 22, has been in the top 10 and is every bit the talent Vandeweghe is. Both women have great serves. Their serves make you wonder why so many of the women serve so poorly. 

But Keys, unlike Vandeweghe, is learning more of an all-court game, a tactical game on the fly. It’s a lot harder to do it that way, when you’re full-bore into your professional career and have to be concerned more with winning matches than becoming a better tennis player. But she’s good enough to do it; she’s already doing it.

The queen and her princesses

Along with Venus Williams, the immortal 37-year-old who may well end up winning it all, the four American women have turned this US Open around.

So many top names were missing at the start – notably, Serena Williams on the women’s side. On the men’s side, too many to mention. So many really good players flamed out early.

Even Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal struggled at the beginning of the tournament.

A pretty stacked women’s team in Rio included both Williams sisters, Keys, Stephens, Vandeweghe and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

This all-USA team – all of whom represented the country at the Olympics a year ago – will be the story of this quintessentially American tournament regardless of who is holding up the trophies on the weekend.

On Thursday night, Williams will play Stephens for only the second time. The first time was in the first round of the 2015 French Open. And it was won by Stephens.

Then, Keys will play Vandeweghe for the third time in five weeks, after they had never, ever met before during their careers.

“We have so many Americans to talk about in the last days of the US Open. I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in this chair and had to hear, you know, how horrible tennis is in America,” Keys said. “So this feels really good. The fact that there is going to be, you know, two all-American semifinals, two, you know, people in the finals in Saturday.”

US Open Day 10 – What to Watch

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NEW YORK – Whatever watching you’re doing, it’s going to be on Arthur Ashe Stadium under the roof.

When the schedule for the second Wednesday came out Tuesday evening, the US Open didn’t even bother trying to schedule the myriad of junior and legends and men’s doubles matches that would normally have been played.

The weather forecast was that bad.

To the four singles quarterfinals scheduled on Arthur Ashe, they did add three women’s quarterfinal doubles matches on the Grandstand. But that was with a hope and a prayer.

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Women’s Matches to Watch

[1] Karolina Pliskova (CZE) vs. [20] Coco Vandeweghe (USA)

Two more Americans will try to add their names to the women’s singles semifinal roster, along with Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens.

Those two got it done – both in third-set tiebreaks, Tuesday.

First up is No. 20 seed Coco Vandeweghe, who has the toughest task of all against world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova.

Despite being the top-ranked woman in the world, Pliskova has been very much under the radar during the US Open. Part of that was the stadium-court scheduling and return of Maria Sharapova. The other has been the success of the American women at their home Slam.

Pliskova’s hold on No. 1 was tenuous going in. There were, in theory, eight women who could have ended the US Open in the top spot. But most of them fell away quite early. That includes No. 2 Simona Halep, who was just five ranking points behind at the start and had far fewer ranking points to defend this fortnight than Pliskova, a finalist last year.

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Now, only one player stands in the way of the Czech’s maintaining the top spot: Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza.

If Pliskova doesn’t reach the final (i.e., win this match against Vandeweghe and her semi-final as well), Muguruza will become the new No. 1, the 24th player in the history of the WTA Tour to do so.  

Pliskova won their last meeting, on the indoor clay-court track in Stuttgart. But Vandeweghe won their previous two meetings, on hard court in Dubai and at Wimbledon two years ago, in the second round.

There will be big serving, and hard hitting. And, hopefully, some fruitful net attacking by Vandweghe to change things up.

[15] Madison Keys (USA) vs. [Q] Kaia Kanepi (EST)

The theme of the day for the women is power as two more hard hitters take the court tonight.

“Late Night with Madison” has become a theme with the 22-year-old American, who has fed off the well-refreshed late night crowds on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

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Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys had no hard feelings after their Stanford final last month – clearly! Both returned to the top 20.

This time, she and Kanepi are the opening act for the blockbuster to follow between Roger Federer and Juan Martin del Potro.

Kanepi, sidelined for much of the last few years with plantar fasciitis in both feet as well as a bout with the Epstein-barr virus, has gone through the qualifying and won four main-draw matches to get this far.

Keys has played some marathons, but still would be relatively fresher.

There’s a decade between them (Kanepi is 32). But they’ve only met once, on clay in Madrid in 2015 (won by Kanepi).

Men’s Matches to Watch

[1] Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. Andrey Rublev (RUS)

Nadal’s draw has worked out extremely well for him. He has yet to face a top-50 player, and Rublev is no exception.

But the 19-year-old Russian, who upset No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov earlier in the tournament, will be top 50 when this tournament is over. In fact, he’ll be in the top 40 no matter what happens against Nadal. Rublev also beat No. 9 seed David Goffin, clearly hobbled by a knee injury.

Nadal has never played Rublev. But he’s 1-0 against his coach, a Spaniard named Fernando Vicente. Nadal beat Vicente, who reached No. 29 in the singles rankings in 2000,  in straight sets in the first round of the 2003 US Open. Nadal was 17 at the time.

[3] Roger Federer (SUI) vs. [24] Juan Martin del Potro (ARG)

This rematch of the 2009 US Open final was the most hotly-anticipated potential clash on the men’s side with the exception of one – a potential Federer-Nadal semifinal.

That del Potro got to this place at all was close to miraculous, after he struggled with a virus in the 36 hours before his match against No. 6 seed Dominic Thiem.

Down two sets to none, aching and ailing, del Potro somehow found a way to come back and win in five. It was a match he called “unforgettable.”

He should be feeling better by this point. But obviously not at his best. 

Federer had an unblemished record against his previous three opponents (Mikhail Youzhny, Feliciano Lopez, Philipp Kohlscrieber). He’s 16-5 against del Potro. But the Argentine’s victories over him have hurt.

He defeated Federer twice at his hometown tournament in Basel, Switzerland. And he defeated him in the US Open that year, ending Federer’s streak of five straight titles at Flushing Meadows.

It’s going to be a long day of tennis before this one gets going tonight. Hopefully, the wait will have been worth it.

Madison Keys quietly exits French Open

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ROLAND GARROS – If there were one player you’d have picked to make a major breakthrough in 2017, it was young American Madison Keys.

So many champions are out of the game for various reasons. And the 22-year-old’s talent is unquestioned. Who better to step into the void and pick off her first major title – or two?

It hasn’t worked out that way. And the reason is one that has become a little too familiar in the game in recent years: a wrist issue.

Keys had what was described as minor surgery on her left wrist (she’s right-handed, but uses the left for her two-handed backhand).

It was performed in late October, three days after she qualified for the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore for the first time.

Late start to 2017

That was more than seven months ago. She returned at Indian Wells in late March. But the spring clay-court season has not been kind. Keys only posted her first win in the first round at the French Open against Australia’s Ashleigh Barty. She lost in the first round in Charleston, Madrid and Rome – all of them tough three-set defeats.

Keys looked fine as she was warming up Thursday. And, in principle, she is fine. Officially, the problem is fixed.

But after Keys won the first set against Croatian qualifier Petra Martic, she mistimed a couple of shots, and the wrist locked up on her.

Keys
There were a few tears as Keys was having her wrist taped during her second-round match. Frustration, mostly.

She was treated on court, the wrist was taped, but there wasn’t much she could do. For the remainder of a the 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 loss, she hit one-handed slices.

“I hit, like, one or two balls kind of late and off. And kind of from that point at the end of the first set, it kind of just got worse and worse. And then I was hoping I could, obviously, get through it in the second set, but then by the third set it was just really painful,” Keys said afterwards. 

“Everyone just keeps telling me it’s structurally fine. It’s just getting it back to 100 per cent and being able to handle weird bounces or, you know, hitting something late and all that. So everyone just keeps telling me it’s going to take some time,” she added. 

Bad bounces and late hits

Keys will probably look forward to getting on the hard courts this summer. Because she said that if she gets a bad bounce or hits a shot off-centre, the wrist sort of locks up on her a little. And then it gets painful. And grass courts aren’t exactly going to be friendly in that regard.

Keys
The wrist was taped, but no quick fix was going to help Keys in this particular match.

She said that Martic, who is returning from a long injury layoff (a former top-50 player, she was out from last year’s Wimbledon until she returned in April), hits a heavy ball that kicks up high. So the cumulative effect of that may have played a part in it. “It was just constantly in a bad position,” Keys said.

There were some tears from Keys when the trainer was out taping the wrist. 

“I definitely feel like I start getting a little panicky. And that’s obviously not what you want to feel in the middle of a match. So that’s not the easiest thing to deal with,” she said. 

Mostly, though, there is frustration. “Played the last year in pain, and I can deal with that. It’s just the frustration of getting it fixed and, you know, just feeling like you’re almost there. And then especially happening at a Slam, it’s just tough.”

Doubles Kyrgios – a different Kyrgios

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If you’re not a big fan of the volatile Aussie Nick Kyrgios, but you’re keeping an open mind and you’re willing to see another side to him beyond some of his less-endearing on-court moments, here’s a suggestion:

Watch him play doubles.

The 21-year-old is a different guy on the doubles court. He’s much more relaxed, he smiles a whole lot more, and perhaps he lets more of his real personality shine through. He also takes it very seriously.

Kyrgios and Jack Sock are into the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open doubles after a pair of straight-set wins against two very accomplished doubles tandems. They defeated Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the first round, and upset No. 5 seeds Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram 6-4, 6-4 Tuesday.

Kyrgios
Kyrgios and Sock hug it out after beating Rojer and Teacu in the first round of doubles at the Madrid Open. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

These two, good mates, have often tried in the past to team up on the doubles court. For a few years, Sock and Canadian Vasek Pospisil were a steady duo (they won Wimbledon in 2014 in their first tournament together).

After that, one circumstance after another prevented it. Only once has it happened. But they had to retire after the first set of their second-round match in Toronto last summer against Pospisil and Daniel Nestor.

But they practice together often – to the reported mild dismay of Australian Open captain and Kyrgios advisor Lleyton Hewitt.

Hewitt, as serious as a heart attack during practice when he played, thinks they don’t work hard enough because they joke around too much.

Court comedians

He’s not totally wrong. Check out this footage of the pair entertaining the crowd thoroughly at the Rogers Cup in Montreal in 2015.

The thing about these two is that the kids LOVE them. And that’s the demographic that will make the game grow during the next era, the one without Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Teenaged boys follow them around as though they’re a pair of pied pipers. In the video above, all the boys from Tennis Canada’s high-performance junior program were on hand and watched most of the practice. Félix Auger-Aliassime (then 14, in the red shirt on the left) is probably the best 16-year-old in the world right now. He won the boys’ title at the US Open last summer.

Kyrgios plans to play doubles at the French Open with fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson. He also hopes to play mixed doubles with his girlfriend, Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia.

Here he is at Wimbledon playing mixed with Madison Keys.

And here he is playing mixed with Genie Bouchard at the US Open last summer. It was just a couple of hours after that match that Bouchard had her fall in the women’s locker room. 

Different guy, huh?

Next up for Sock and Kyrgios are either No. 4 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo or the alternate American pair of Brian Baker and Nick Monroe.

WTA Rankings Report – May 8, 2017

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Serena Williams remains No. 1 in the rankings this week. But that will be it for a long while.

With her first-round win in Madrid Sunday, Angelique Kerber already has surpassed her effort in the tournament a year ago, when she lost in the first round to Barbora Strycova.

Williams has significant points coming off her ranking from her Rome title, and later the French Open final and her Wimbledon win.

So Kerber will regain the top spot, and she’ll extend her lead. No. 3 Karolina Pliskova is not winning matches and the rest are far behind.

Get ready for another long stretch with the German in the top spot, unless someone finally steps up in a major way.

Players on the upswing

Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP):
No. 6 ————> No. 4 
(It’s a brief jump for the Spaniard, who will drop back to to No. 6, and maybe further, next Monday after her first-round loss in Madrid)

Johanna Konta (GBR):
No. 7 ————> No. 6
(The career high will also be brief for the Brit, who also lost in the first round in Madrid).

rankings
Things haven’t been great for Konta since winning Miami.

Ana Konjuh (CRO):
No. 33 ————> No. 29
(Career high for the 19-year-old)

Kristyna Pliskova (CZE):
No. 58 ————> No. 48
(The lefty joins her twin sister in the top 50 after Prague final)

Mona Barthel (GER):
No. 82 ————> No. 56
(From the qualifying to the title in Prague)

Natalia Vikhlyantseva (RUS):
No. 77 ————> No. 70
(A career high, and a moment with her idol)

Francesca Schiavone (ITA):
No. 100 ————> No. 77
(Wonderwoman continues to amaze at age 36)

Madison Brengle (USA):
No. 91 ————> No. 81

Sara Errani (ITA):
No. 102 ————> No. 90

Players on the downswing

Simona Halep (ROU):
No. 4 ————> No. 8
(The fall should be brief for Halep, whose points as Madrid champion dropped but can be re-earned this week)

Madison Keys (USA):
No. 10 ————> No. 13
(Out of the top 10, a first-round stumble in Madrid this week, and finalist’s points in Rome falling off)

A new coach, a late start, and some wrist issues are making 2017 challenging for Keys. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Samantha Stosur (AUS):
No. 19 ————> No. 26

Sorana Cirstea (ROU):
No. 64 ————> No. 83
(Down, but Cirstea made good on a wild card into Madrid offered by the owner, fellow Romanian Ion Tiriac. She upset Anastasia Pavlychukenkova in the first round)

Louisa Chirico (USA):
No. 69 ————> No. 128
(The 20-year-old New Yorker has won just one match in seven tournaments this season – a first-round win over Schiavone at Indian Wells).

Taylor Townsend (USA):
No. 116 ————> No. 134
(The USTA Pro Circuit events in April, a boon for her in the past, turned out to be a bust this year)

Players defending points this week

Serena Williams – 900 points

Madison Keys – 585 points

Garbiñe Muguruza – 350 points

Irina-Camelia Begu – 350 points

Svetlana Kuznetsova – 190 points

Timea Bacsinszky – 190 points

Barbora Strycova – 190 points

Misaki Doi – 190 points

For the complete WTA Tour rankings picture, updated May 8, click here.

Bencic latest addition to the wrist list

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The list of tennis players beset by wrist problems is getting longer.

Belinda Bencic is the latest addition to the roster, which already includes Juan Martin del Potro, Juan Monaco, Madison Keys and Laura Robson.

The rising Swiss star, who just over a year ago entered the top 10 for the first time, announced via Twitter that she had surgery. She will be out for several months. 

“Hi guys, unfortunately I had to have surgery on my left wrist last week so I will be out of action for a few months. It was not an easy decision, but after careful thought and consideration with my team and doctors, we decided that doing it and fixing this problem now would help extend and enhance my career for many years to come.

“Thanks for your loyal support and I promise that I’m planning to come back stronger and hungrier than ever.”

It is Bencic’s left wrist, heavily counted on for her two-handed backhand. That also was the case with del Potro (he had surgery on his right wrist as well).

Not quite a plague, definitely a scourge

Just 20, Bencic is dealing with this at about the same time as Robson did. The British player had tendon surgery on her left (dominant) wrist just over three years ago. And she still isn’t close to getting back to where she was. Her career high of No 27 came in the summer of 2013.

Bencic
At Wimbledon in 2014, 17-year-old Bencic had the right wrist taped. Three years later, it is the left wrist that was operated on. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Robson played just three matches at the beginning of 2014 and didn’t return until Wimbledon the following year. She has played a number of tournaments down at the $25,000 level this season. 

Currently ranked No. 234, Robson was a prodigy at an even younger age than Bencic. She was just 14 when she won junior Wimbledon; Bencic was 16 when she won both the French Open and Wimbledon in 2013. When you look at the sheer number of matches Bencic played as a junior, you can see the wear and tear began early.

Bencic already has had her share of injuries. In 2016 she had a back issue that hampered her for several months.

Bencic

After batting Shelby Rogers in Charleston, Madison Keys battles trolls

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It’s tough enough when you’re the top seed at a Premier-level event for the first time, and you go down swinging in your first match.

But when the inevitable Twitter trolls appear on your timeline, many of them disgruntled bettors who lost money on you, it certainly doesn’t help your mood.

American Madison Keys, in just her third tournament of the season, lost 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 at the Volvo Car Open Wednesday to countrywoman and Fed Cup teammate Shelby Rogers. Rogers, as it happens, is a local, Charleston, S.C. born and raised.

Keys was lucky to sneak out the first set, but it went downhill quickly from there. Down 1-4 in the second set, after a on-court coaching consult from former No. 1 Lindsay Davenport – full of good advice, it should be said – she lost seven straight games. Keys avoided the bagel by holding at 0-5 in the third.

Before the match, here’s what she had to say:

After the defeat, she was a woman of her word.

There are two options for the players when this happens. All of them get it to some degree or another. And some of it is really, really vile.

People always say, “Ignore it. Don’t engage.” But it’s probably hard to NOT see it, as you might be scrolling through your social media trying to find some positive words from someone, even a total stranger. Plus, you’re out of the tournament, you’re a long way from home and there’s a lot of time to kill. So you’re going to be on your phone.

Keys, who has recently gotten involved with the Fearlessly Girl leadership and empowerment program, has decided to take the abuse head on.

She posted on Instagram about it last fall:

Does it do any good? Probably not; everyone already knows it happens and you can’t shame people who won’t be shamed. It’s naive optimism but you never know. It can’t hurt.

And it probably feels good to actually DO something, rather than just sit there and try to ignore it.

(A subtle distinction – perhaps too subtle for social media – not sure you can accept more from a Tweeter who calls her/himself “I hate Simona”)

One troller apologized. Well, sort of. Not really.

If you want to get a full picture of just exactly how much of this a player can get after a loss that was unexpected (at least to the wagerers), click here to see Keys’ very active Twitter feed tonight. Disclaimer: some of the language is pretty vulgar.