In the Final show-down at this year’s women’s 2017 US Open, hosted in New York, it’s the much promised and talked about all-American clash between Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens.
Keys’ love for fast tempo rallies
From observing Keys this tournament it’s clear she plays her best tennis when facing players who play a little similar to herself. Hard hitting, mostly flat and offering players fast pace balls to work with. This constant pace is what Keys loves and ultimately when she really is in her comfort zone. In-fact this is her IN-THE-ZONE. It’s why I imagine her breakthrough and first ever WTA title came on the grass in Eastbourne. A surface that encourages a quicker tempo to the rallies with balls skidding and coming onto the racquet more.
Both Kaia Kanepi in the Quarter Finals and Coco Vandeweghe (Even though she was awful) in the Semi Finals allowed Keys to bathe in her comfort zone. These players mostly hit linear shots and rarely take the pace out of the ball to make way for more spin and the opportunity for making an angle. It’s all quick-tempo.
When facing Elina Svitolina who is more the counterpuncher and tends to use those angles, Keys was a little flustered. She was unable to get herself into an easy rhythm of striking the ball. She couldn’t go into “automatic” with her game and the lack of being successfully familiar with how to play when faced with players who don’t join her in the ball bash game, caused panic. You could visually see this in her body language and facial expressions. She was anxious and making umpteen looks over to Davenport in the box.
Why this makes Stephens a tricky match-up for Keys:
This is where the problems begin for Madison in the match-up. While Sloane Stephens is not short on power, she very much plays with a lot more control in her aggression than the ball-bashers Keys tends to flourish against. Shots are shaped/curled around the court, dragging her opponents left to right and right to left, before she then has them at her mercy, offering up the weaker reply. Even when Stephens isn’t neutral in the rally, she is able to defend aggressively enough, by responding with shots that come back with width. Yes, that’s right. Width that can cause the one dimensional, lanky Madison Keys to get her legs in a knot trying to constantly contend with.
Keys has improved her ball-striking whilst on the move, but she is still lacking that natural athleticism and agility for which will allow her to maintain making these shots, time after time, in a rally. These are the types of question Stephens will be asking. Especially when we’re considering how slow the courts are this year (Obviously something the organisers have changed in order to help Nadull mount his charge)
Stephens; no Hackniacki
Stephens is by no means just a counter-puncher. She possesses a big forehand that drags players off the court in one swoop, as well as an effortless backhand that she takes up-the-line. There’s a balance to her game, which cannot be said for a lot of players in women’s tennis right now. Who are one extreme or the other. For me it’s the most well-rounded game on the WTA circuit. Her choices in rallies are endless and she isn’t confined to just one set way of thinking. Now in-the-past this has proven actually to be the problem, (A good problem in-terms of the bigger picture) as all these options have made it hard for her to structure a repeatable go-to winning pattern of play. It’s not easy for a player to be chopping and changing their mindset throughout a match and so managing this has taken her time and reflection.
Other players can get into a tunnel vision before matches regarding what they are going to do when they go out there on-court. For Stephens I’m sure it has been less clear. Her mindset has always seemed to me to have been; “let’s go out there and play well”. My theory is that very well rounded players like Sloane tend to develop a little later in their careers and we’ve seen that with Goffin, Murray and Nishikori in the mens game, who only started really making the moves into the elite once they hit their mid 20s.
Keys serve should give her cheap points and ease her pressure, but does Sloane have the minerals in her return to prevent this?
We know all about the Keys’ serve. Powerful, accurate and incredibly consistent. It’s her trademark. Overall a very efficient serve that she relies on to relieve a lot of pressure in matches. She’ll inevitably be feeling a little tight in her first slam final, so i’m sure that goes into this one in a great serving rhythm helps her well.
Now Stephens and Keys have played before once, a match Stephens won back in 2015 at Miami and I’m sure they’ve hit with each other with both being a product of the USTA, so Stephens must already have a rough idea on Keys’ serving patterns. Regardless I’m sure Sloane will come in with the right insight given to her by her coach who seems like an obsessive and would have studied Madison’s matches over the last fortnight and particularly where she is going on the big-points.
It’s pretty safe to say Keys’ go-to serve on the AD side is her kicker out wide and this heads into the right handers’ backhand corner. For me this is where the match-up is really edged in Sloane’s favours, as not only is her backhand forged in absolute steel, but her agility to lunge out-wide to that backhand side is second to none in the women’s game. She even has the minerals to react late to serves and get them back.Nishikori and Goffin esk. We saw that against Venus in the semis.
Rallies that go over 5 shots
The problem for Keys here is unless she’s making first serves SHE WILL need to hit WHAT SHE WILL FEEL IS 3-4 winners per rally to notch just one point and that is in her own service games. That is a weight-load of pressure to be carrying in a final. With Stephens being THE most proficient mover side-to-side in the women’s game and her backhand being so compact, a shot she barely ever misses it, long rallies are not looking such pleasant reading for Keys.
Keys will have to work hard with her footwork if she is to dominate the rallies as consistently and/or easily as she has done in her previous two matches. We saw that Stephens is more than capable of neutralising power and then eventually flipping-the-script and wrestling over control of rallies against Venus. Yes Keys is a far superior server to Venus, particularly as far as the second serve is concerned, but Stephens absorbs pace extremely well.
Sloane is an exceptional mover across the court, changes direction at an ease and it’s a no-brainer to say without question she is the best athlete in the WTA. She has great feel on her backhand and absorbs pace on it so well. Does she however have the mental clarity going into this one, tactically, on such a big-occasion to combat Keys’ onslaught of ball bashing? For me the last match proved she does. She’s reading the game well at the moment, is in a good place mentally and seems to have found the right coach.
The Keys kick serve on the AD side is easier to return than her slider or kicker out-wide on the deuce. Considering most big-points are played on that AD side it’s a MASSIVE advantage for Sloane.
Sloane claws balls back and resets rallies to an extent where Keys isn’t getting the cheap points she needs to feel in control. She is a player obsessed with control. Especially in these big matches.
Stephens is still just working out ways to piece together the best patterns of play to cement into her game, so she can find something that works repeatably and since her comeback it seems she is getting progessively closer. Whether that’s reflection, her coach’s reflection or a combination of both, I do not know, but one thing I do know, is if she produces it tomorrow, she’s lifting the title.
“Who needs Serena?”
^To be the headline on some of the US newspapers on Sunday morning, after she beats Madison Keys to win her first Grandslam and the US Open title in 3 sets
Back Sloane Stephens at 3.0+ on the Betfair trading exchange and remove your stake/liability after she notches the first set. If she goes up an early break in the second, trade/cashout for 85%+ of the maximum potential profit.
Not an inplay trader & prefer to use a bookmaker & just bet on the result then the following bets are the ones I recommend
Sloane Stepehens +1.5 sets (To win a set) at 1.74
Sloane Stephens to win at 3.15
Remember women’s tennis isn’t my forte. They tend to take the racquet back a lot more than the men before hitting the ball. I can’t say I have an amazing read on all of that, so please don’t put too much money on this. However with that said, I do still feel pretty confident on this one. 🙂