Keys entered the clay-court tournament on a three-match winless streak, which included losses in Indian Wells and Miami under conditions that would best suit her aggressive game. Concurrently, Stephens has endured a season-long struggle, falling to opponents ranked dozens of spots below her.
Yesterday, the 2017 US Open finalists put forth what was arguably their best performances of the season.
Keys, who reached the Charleston final in 2015, beat 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets, while Stephens rallied to defeat the dangerous Ajla Tomljanovic in three. Against Ostapenko, Keys faced an opponent whose go-for-broke style on clay has paid dividends in the past and who had been undergoing some on- and off-court difficulties of her own of late. Over the week, though, the Latvian had shown some encouraging signs in regard to her return to form, as well. However, Keys was able to effectively dismantle the Latvian’s game to advance to her first quarterfinal of the year.
For Stephens—the 2016 Volvo Car Open champion—it appeared another early-round loss was in the cards against Tomljanovic, as she went down a set and two breaks. Refusing to accept another quick defeat, the American battled back to record her best showing of 2019.
This will be the fourth career meeting between the Americans, with Stephens taking all of their prior encounters.
And perhaps, in a stunning turn, the Grand Slam champion has had little difficulty dispatching her friend.
In their first meeting back in Miami in 2015, Stephens took the match in straight sets. It would be more than two years later before they met again, in one of the most shocking Grand Slam finals in recent memory, when Stephens—unseeded after working her way back from a foot injury—routed Keys.
At the time, it appeared that Stephens handled the weight of the situation better than Keys and that she would be ready when next they met under such circumstances. The two had the opportunity soon afterward in last year’s French Open semifinal, but the outcome was similar to their other matches.
The match today doesn’t have the same stakes as a battle at the latter stages of a major. However, for both players, this encounter represents the chance to turn around their season and build from here. Their struggles so far in 2019 have been unexpected, but as they’ve shown this week, they’re capable of a quick turnaround, working their way back to the success they’re accustomed to.