Angelique Kerber vs Madison Keys: Cincinnati Masters third round preview and prediction

(Photo credit: Karl Norling)

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Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber will look to put a disappointing Montreal campaign behind her when she takes on 13th seed Madison Keys for a place in the quarterfinals in Ohio. Kerber has had a generally excellent 2018, despite that early loss in Canada, and will consider herself in with a chance to claim both the US Open and the year-end #1. But Keys, last year the runner-up in New York, will be eager to remind her home fans of her quality. Who will come out on top?


Kerber and Keys have met eight times and the numbers make fairly painful reading for the American who trails 1-7 in their head-to-head. Her sole victory came in the Eastbourne final in 2014 where she won 6-3 3-6 7-5. By then she had already lost twice to Kerber, and it has gotten worse for her since with defeats in the final in Charleston, at the Rio Olympics in the semifinals, at the Tour Finals later that year and most recently in the Australian Open quarterfinals this January.


Path to the second round

After a second-round hammering at the hands of Alize Cornet in Montreal, Kerber arrived in Cincinnati with something of a point to prove. But she faced a tough opening assignment in the form of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, the world #28, who last week came close to knocking world #1 Simona Halep off her perch. She again came close to the upset win, but again just fell short as Kerber hung tough in the crucial moments to advance a 4-6 6-4 7-5 winner.

Keys, without the first-round bye enjoyed by Kerber, began her campaign against her compatriot Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Mattek-Sands is still working her way back from a serious knee injury, but nevertheless made the better start, winning the first set 6-3 and unsettling Keys with her unusual style. But Keys dug in, and came through 3-6 7-6 6-3 to set up a second-round clash with Camila Giorgi who she dismissed 6-2 6-2.

How do they match up?

As impressive a defender as Kerber is, she may well be tested to her limit by the power of Keys. The American can step in and crush the ball with both her forehand and backhand and also possesses an excellent serve. But she will need to be at her offensive best. Keys will not be able to outlast Kerber from the back of the court nor can she rely on the German hitting enough unforced errors to swing the match in her favour. So staying aggressive will be vital for Keys.

Even then it may not be enough. Kerber has the counterpunching ability to knock down even the game’s most explosive players. Her running forehand down the line is particularly dangerous and Keys will hope to avoid being burned by that shot too often. Kerber’s lefty-serve out wide may also be a factor in this match. Kerber, at her best, uses it to good effect to open up court space to hit into and that one-two punch could be an important play for Kerber for the remainder of the hard court season.


In Montreal, Kerber looked uninspired and rather rusty and Cornet was well worth her win. She looked to be in danger of slumping to a similar defeat against Pavlyuchenkova this week in the early going. But she managed to raise her level when it mattered and that should have done much to sharpen her mind and her game. And in the past, when she’s been playing well she’s been able to get the better of Madison Keys. There seems to be little reason to expect a different outcome this time around.