WATCH: Keys chats with Prakash after Swiatek win

Iga Swiatek seemed to have restored some semblance of order in her game during her first-round win in Cincinnati. After losing three of her previous six matches, the WTA’s once-dominant No. 1 had beaten Sloane Stephens in two close, testing sets. And yet, even then, she hinted at possible troubles ahead in her post-match press conference.

“I feel like I had ups and downs in terms of practicing here,” Swiatek said. “Probably many reasons [for that], but I don’t really want to get into it because I’m trying to really focus on the future.”

A few moments later, though, when she was asked what she thought of the balls that the women are using in Cincinnati and at the US Open this year, Swiatek ditched the mystery and made her concerns plain.

“Honestly, I don’t like them,” she said. “I’ve heard many players actually complaining as well.”

“Basically the thing is that they’re lighter,” she went on. “They fly like crazy. Right now we play powerful, and we kind of can’t loosen up our hands with these balls…We make more mistakes, for sure.”

Her worries proved prescient, at least for herself. In her 6-3, 6-4 loss to Madison Keys on Thursday, Swiatek made more than her share of mistakes (14, which was a generous number from the office scorer) , and hit far fewer than her normal share of winners (six). For most of the match, Swiatek looked unsure of herself, and unable to, as she said, open up and let the ball rip the way she has all year. It was only when she was serving at 0-5 in the second set, and facing two match points, that she finally found the type of racquet-head speed that she needed to power the ball cleanly through the court. It won her the next four games, but was ultimately too little too late.


Keys is yet to drop a set in her three singles matches this week.

Keys is yet to drop a set in her three singles matches this week.

That’s because the player on the other side of the net wasn’t have any trouble controlling anything on this day. As Keys noted after the match, she had a number of motivating factors today: After starting off the year with a title in Adelaide and a deep run Australian Open, she hadn’t reached a quarterfinal since March; the last time she played Swiatek, in Indian Wells, she lost 6-1, 6-0; and she was in Cincinnati, in her native midwest, at a tournament she had won in 2019. Watching her fight her way past Jelena Ostapenko in her previous match, I thought Keys seemed more determined than usual to come away with a win, and that she could give Swiatek a run today.

Keys did more than that. She dominated Swiatek right up until she reached match points at 5-0 in the second. She did it by hitting 17 winners to Swiatek’s six. She did it by taking control of rallies with her return, and earning 14 break points, five of which she converted. She did it by beating this season’s best puncher to the punch. And then, when Swiatek threatened to turn the match around in the second set, Keys settled back down and broke her again for the win.

“The last time I played her, she beat me really badly,” Keys said. “So I’m glad to get that under my belt.”

If Swiatek is looking for a positive, she can point to the last five games, when she seemed to find a way to hit through those light balls and control them. As for Keys, who recorded her fist win over a world No. 1, she has made herself a title contender in Cincinnati, where she’ll face Elena Rybakina next.

Maybe more significantly, by sending Swiatek to her fourth defeat in eight matches, Keys has made it clear that there won’t be any true favorite on the WTA side at the US Open. Which means she, like everyone else, has a shot.