Madison Keys made a successful return to the WTA at the Qatar Total Open on Tuesday, defeating No.6 seed Belinda Bencic, 6-4, 6-1 in the opening round in Doha.
In her first match since 2020 Roland Garros — a gap of five months — Keys came out the victor in a battle between Top 20 players. The 2017 US Open finalist needed just over an hour to start off her season with a victory and gain a 2-1 head-to-head edge against Bencic.
"I'm really happy with how I came out and played today," Keys said in her post-match press conference. "I'm a little bit surprised with myself but hoping to keep the momentum going on Wednesday."
In her first meeting with Bencic since their two previous clashes in 2015, Keys powered 24 winners to 17 unforced errors, and saved four of the five break points she faced.
World No.12 Bencic, just three days removed from a runner-up showing in Adelaide, had won six of her last eight matches. However, against Keys, she was undone by 20 unforced errors and won just 28 % of points off of her second serve.
Ferocious forehands by Keys helped her build an early 3-0 lead in the opening set. Keys extended her lead to 5-3, but she was unable to serve out the set as Bencic’s improving shot selection forced errors from the American. Nevertheless, Keys claimed the one-set lead by crushing a forehand winner to break Bencic in the very next game.
Exceptionally deep returns by Keys helped her grab another early lead in the second set, moving ahead 3-1. Another superb return game gave Keys one more break, this time at love, for 5-1. Keys coolly served out the match with one more love game, firing an ace to claim her tenth straight point.
"If I'm serving well, things are usually going well for me," said Keys, who won 83 % of her first-service points. "I think it's a really important part of my game, something that I focused on a lot. Obviously tonight it showed that when I'm serving well and hitting my spots, I can get ahead in the point."
Keys will attempt to extend her comeback week against Maria Sakkari in the second round. Sakkari won their only previous meeting in straight sets at last year’s Australian Open.
Earlier on Tuesday, qualifiers Laura Siegemund and Jessica Pegula proved the value of match play at the event by pulling off first-round upsets of Elena Rybakina and Wang Qiang respectively.
Siegemund had the tighter contest, edging Rybakina 7-6(7), 7-6(5) in two hours and 29 minutes. The German had lost both of her previous encounters with Rybakina in 2019, but this time managed to hold off comeback attempts from her opponent in each set.
An entertaining stylistic contrast saw World No.56 Siegemund take the lead first in both stanzas. The Roland Garros quarterfinalist used dropshots and sudden injections of pace to keep Rybakina off-balance, and leapt out to a 3-0 double-break lead off the bat, and then a 5-3 advantage in the second set.
Rybakina battled back gamely, blending her easy power with finesse of her own, but was almost always on the back foot scoreboard-wise. Siegemund remained committed to her strategy despite seeing her leads chipped away, and was rewarded at the business end of each set.
The 32-year-old needed to save a set point in the first-set tiebreak, but ultimately snatched it as Rybakina's backhand broke down on the final two points. In the second set, Siegemund would miss a match point serving at 5-3, and another at 5-4, but wrapped up victory on her fourth with a service winner.
Elsewhere, World No.44 Pegula's defeat of World No.35 Wang may have been an upset on paper, but reflected the form of each this season. The American, fresh off her maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open, needed just one hour and 15 minutes to progress 6-2, 6-1. Wang, by contrast, falls to just 2-6 in 2021 so far.
Ons Jabeur and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova would hold back the tide of qualifiers, though. Jabeur, who thrilled the 2020 Doha crowd by reaching the quarterfinals, beat Anna Blinkova 6-2, 6-2 in one hour and eight minutes to set up a rematch against No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova, whom she defeated in the third round here last year.
Pavlyuchenkova defeated qualifier Kristyna Pliskova 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and a quarter on Tuesday. With her win, Pavlyuchenkova lines up a hard-hitting second-round encounter with No.4 seed Petra Kvitova.
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