In a battle between two players looking to reach a first French Open semifinal, Madison Keys of the United States takes on Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva at Roland Garros. Keys, who last year reached the US Open final, is looking to continue her transition into a serial Slam contender by further progress in the French capital. Putintseva, meanwhile, is the last unseeded player left standing in the women’s draw. Will she be able to cause an upset, or will it be Keys who triumphs?
Keys and Putintseva have met only once previously, in a match two years ago contested at the tail end of the season in Tokyo. The pair faced off in the first round in what proved to be a thriller. It was Putintseva who made the better start, winning the opening set 6-3. But Keys hit back to win the second by the same score and level the match. In the decider there was almost nothing to separate them, but it was Putintseva who eventually prevailed 9-7 in a tiebreak.
Path to the quarterfinals
Keys began her French Open campaign with a convincing win against her fellow American Sachia Vickery, defeating the 23-year-old 6-3 6-3. Drawn to face another American, Caroline Dolehide, Keys was again in control throughout, winning through to the third round a 6-4 6-1 winner. Keys then overcame some late resistance from 21st seed Naomi Osaka to reach the fourth round after a 6-1 7-6 win. There she made her first French Open quarterfinal by defeating Mihaela Buzarnescu, who had upset Elina Svitolina in the previous round, 6-1 6-4.
Putintseva’s first match in Paris saw her convincingly defeat the struggling Briton Johanna Konta 6-4 6-3. She backed that up with another straight sets win against Jennifer Brady of the United States. The Kazakh then overcame a slow start to oust Wang Qiang in three sets, 1-6 7-5 6-4. That left her facing the Czech Republic’s 26th seed Barbora Strycova for a place in the quarterfinals. Putintseva delivered another fine performance to upset the higher-ranked Strycova 6-4 6-3 to reach the quarters for a second time in Paris.
How do they match up?
Keys has long been one of the most naturally powerful players on the WTA Tour. Indeed, her former coach John Evert claimed that she was hitting as big a ball as touring professionals when she was just fourteen. Her serve is perhaps her most important weapon with the American using it to take control of points immediately when stepping to the line. Her forehand is also a formidable shot, and she has at times outhit the ATP players in terms of pace on her groundstrokes.
The diminutive Putintseva has rather less weight to throw behind her shots than Keys, who stands half a foot taller than the player from Kazakhstan. But Putintseva makes up for that shortage with guile and an impressive ability to time the ball. That allows her to make up much of the gap in strength between her and the rest of the Tour. However, she can struggle on her serve, especially her second deliveries and Keys would do well to return aggressively from the outset.
Putintseva has again played fine tennis to reach the last eight in Paris. But just as her run was ended by one of the game’s biggest names then, so it will be stopped by Keys this year. Putintseva’s battling qualities and her impressive foot speed will keep her in the match, but Keys will simply have too much power for her to handle, particularly on serve. Expect some high quality rallies and for Keys to advance in three sets.