Heather Watson’s hopes of a final appearance in the AEGON International at Devonshire Park were dashed by American teenager Madison Keys on centre court earlier today.
British No.1 Watson rarely looked comfortable in the semi-final and never found an answer to Keys’ huge serve as she lost 6-3, 6-1 in one-hour and one-minute.
Keys will now go on to face German left-hander Angelique Kerber in Sunday’s final after she beat Caroline Wozniacki 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 in the first match on centre court.
Watson advanced to the semi-final after former Wimbledon champion and world No.6 Petra Kvitova withdrew from the tournament with a hamstring injury.
Watson had previously beaten a top 20 player Flavia Pennetta in the second round but Keys, ranked 47th in the world, proved a far more problematic opponent for the British player.
Keys is only 19-years-old but is armed with one of the most powerful serves on the WTA tour. At 122.4mph she has clocked the fourth fastest serve this year, precisely the same speed as Serena Williams.
If Key’s first serve was firing, Watson was always going to struggle and unfortunately for the Brit, it was well and truly firing on all cylinders - one of her first serves on centre court even topped her fastest of the year and flashed beyond Watson at 123mph.
In front of large crowd, cheering on a first British semi-finalist at Eastbourne since Jo Durie in 1982, Keys took the first game and then broke Watson to go into a 2-0 lead.
It was difficult for Watson to find any rhythm. She was stretching and straining to get near the first serve while the second serve was kicking high off the grass and forcing Watson to consistently return above shoulder height.
Keys closed out the first set 6-3 and a match with very few rallies of note quickly advanced into the second set.
Watson had a sniff of a chance when she battled her way to three break points at 2-1 up in the second.
Her coaches at court side and the large crowd urged Watson on but the American would not buckle. Her second serve on the first break point was an absolute missile that took Watson by surprise. Two more heavy first serves saved two more break points and with that also went Watson’s resistance.
Keys quickly wrapped up the match in a shade over the hour mark and advanced to her first, and one suspects on this showing, certainly not her last WTA final of career.
“I’m so excited. I’m just really happy and ready to go for tomorrow. I definitely think I served well. When i had break points down, it helped me out and got me back in some games.Then I think I just returned well a couple of games and that was really the match.”
Of her 123mph serve, she added smiling, “Did I serve that? Hmm that’s pretty good Yeah that’s probably the fastest one.”
Watson said, “Today I feel that of all the WTA matches I have ever played, ITF pro, anything, I think today was my toughest opponent ever.
“I tried to hang in there at the beginning, had a few chances in the games early on but i wasn’t able to convert.
“She just played to good for me today.
When I came off court I was very upset , especially being at home and the scoreline, but when I look back it’s been a good week. I played some good tennis early on in the tournament and I got to the semi-finals. You know it’s positive.”