There is a time and place for everything. The second match of today’s World Group tie in Cleveland was not the time and place for Madison Keys.
In a match of Fed Cup debutantes, Camila Giorgi carved up a flustered Keys, 6-2, 6-1, in a 60-minute rout to give defending champion Italy a commanding 2-0 lead over the host United States in the best-of-five match quarterfinal.
Moving with the speed, balance and grace of a skater on sabbatical from Sochi, Giorgi timed the ball beautifully in defusing one of the game’s biggest servers. The 84th-ranked Italian entered the match with just one win this season, but showed the bold shot-making, baseline aggression and flat strikes that helped her reach the fourth round of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Giorgi, who served just 46 percent, navigated a deuce game to hold in the opener before breaking twice in succession for a 3-1 lead. Keys held for the first time for 2-4, but that was her last stand as Giorgi won seven straight games to seize command while her father, Sergio, pumped his fists in support from the sidelines.
Stepping inside the court to take the 37th-ranked American’s second serve on the rise, Giorgi punished the second delivery, winning 13 of 23 points played on Keys’ second serve and breaking the 18-year-old American five times. Keys is an intelligent person, but looked befuddled from the outset, predictably hit most of her second serves wide to the Italian’s backhand on the ad side and showed an alarming inability to construct points or press the reset button and regroup as her game unraveled. Case in point: You’ve spent the first set bricking backhand after backhand into the net why on earth would you attempt to squeeze a low-percentage running backhand down the line from the doubles alley at 30-all in the second game of the second set as Keys did?
The slender Giorgi, listed at 5’6”, 119 pounds, cracks the ball with the force of a woman intent on puncturing a piñata with one swing. The Italian’s drives down the line combined with Keys’ urge to indulge her craving for instant gratification conspired against the American who was unwilling to pull back a bit and patiently work the point. Rather than giving her ground strokes some air, playing crosscourt with more margin over the net or even resorting to the Rod Laver tactic of driving the ball deep down the middle to regain her range, Keys continued to slap balls into net and hit herself right into oblivion. And when she left any ball near mid-court Giorgi belted it.
I don’t know what advice animated Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti was giving Giorgi after she slammed an ace down the middle for a 5-0 lead just 21 minutes into the second set, but something along the lines of “Keep doing exactly what you’re doing” would have made sense.
Meanwhile, about the only time a slightly dazed and increasingly disconsolate American crowd had an opportunity to put their plastic thunder sticks to use was during the drum break when the Bastille hit “Pompeii” blared over the sound system. Its refrain — “How am I gonna be an optimist about this?” — was an appropriate soundtrack for the Americans left gnawing at their nails while facing the massive task of needing to win all three matches tomorrow to retain their spot in the World Group.