A rising star of the tennis world Madison Keys triumphed in a thrilling three set final to claim the AEGON International singles title in front of a large crowd on centre court at Devonshire Park (writes Derren Howard).
The 19-year-old American was in blistering form as she won 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 and just had too much fire power for her experienced German opponent Angelique Kerber.
Keys is ranked 33rd in the world but with a first serve that regularly clocks-in above 120mph and a stinging return on both backhand and forehand, she is tipped by many to rapidly rise up the rankings.
In the semi-final she blitzed Britain’s Heather Watson off the court in an hour. Watson later described Keys as the best opponent she had ever faced in her career and fully expects her to be breaking into the top 10.
Kerber turned pro in 2003 and has three WTA and 11 ITF titles to her name.
The 26-year-old world No.9 has a solid game that has taken her to semi-finals and quarter-finals of the Grand Slams.
But on a packed Devonshire Park centre court, basking in June sunshine, it was the American teenager who, despite appearing in her first tour final, held her nerve to take the $120,000 winners cheque.
A delighted Keys said, “I am absolutely thrilled, I’m just really really happy. My serve was definitely a weapon today and it really helped me through me entire time.
“She raised her level so much in the second set, she played really well. I just had to get more aggressive, not be as passive, I really went for it and it worked today.
“It’s unbelievable to see my name on this trophy alongside some of the greats, I’m proud, honoured and just really happy.”
Asked yesterday how she would approach her first final Keys said that she would ‘just go for it’ and it didn’t take long to find her rhythm.
At 2-1 up in the first Keys broke to go 3-1 up and in the following game sent down three consecutive serves of 124mph, 126mph and 124mph to race into a 4-1 lead.
At 5-3 the court side serve speed reader clocked a staggering 131mph, the ball however did clip the net and the first serve was re-taken with an ace at just a mere 114mph as she went on to take the first 6-3.
Kerber is a class act and responded well. Keys double-faulted in her first service game, the German went on to break and her accurate left handed ground strokes enabled her to open up a 3-0 lead.
Keys hadn’t dropped a set on route to the final.
But at 5-3 down she fought off three set points before Kerber fizzed a backhand into the net cord which trickled over onto the American’s side and the German was back in the game at one set each.
The intensity increased in the third. Kerber lost in the Eastbourne final to Tamira Paszek in 2013 and was determined to go one better, while Keys wanted her first trophy.
The rallies became longer and the quality of tennis was high as the set progressed with serve.
The score was 6-5 to Keys when perhaps the rally of the match delivered match point. The first saw her return to the net while the unflappable Kerber remained calm so see off the second.
But Keys eventually found a way, Kerber was beaten in a final for a second time and a young star was deservedly handed the trophy by tennis legend Martina Navratilova.
Kerber added, “It was a good final for sure. She was serving very good the whole match.
“It’s always not easy when somebody is serving like she did the whole match but I was trying and I think I hit some good returns. Only one person can win a match like that and she won today. At the end it was just one or two points that decided the match.”