Madison Keys vs Caroline Wozniacki – 2016 US Open Preview

Madison Keys and Caroline Wozniacki are both into the fourth round at the 2016 US Open. The two players, who have had very different seasons so far, will meet on Sunday in one of the tournament’s first key matches. The match truly looks even-handed as Keys has been tested in New York while Wozniacki’s ranking doesn’t reflect her level of play at the moment.

Keys’ season to date has included both precedent-setting successes and big-match failures. The American made the Top 10 for the first time in her career earlier this year. Furthermore, she made the final of two Premier Mandatory events on two different surfaces. A few months ago Keys was in the Rome final on clay and more recently she was the runnerup on Montreal’s hard-courts.

However, mixed in with all of her successes in 2016 are numerous major losses. Keys has just one title this season (Birmingham), she bubbled for a medal in Rio, and she’s 0-3 in 2016 in fourth-round matches in majors. The latter point really implies that she could be going out in the very next round.

In fact, if you include last season Keys has lost in four straight majors in the middle hurdle. Furthermore, a couple of her fourth-round losses in the last year have been to much lower-ranked players, namely Kiki Bertens at the French Open and Shuai Zhang at the Australian Open. The sportsbooks consider Keys to be the 4th favorite at the current Grand Slam (i.e.,. bet365) however, that’s certainly not supported by her track record. The 2015 Australian Open, seven Grand Slams ago, remains the only major that Keys has made a semifinal in.

Caroline Wozniacki’s season has been precedent setting as well. However, in the case of the Dane the precedents are ones that she would prefer not to set.

Wozniacki entered the US Open ranked 74th in the world and without any kind of 2016 highlights. In contrast, one year ago she entered Flushing Meadows as the World No. 5. With no Grand Slam match-wins in the first three majors this season, a run to the fourth round at the US Open could be taken to mean that she’s starting to get back to her stronger tennis. However, the Dane now has a Top-10 player to beat, and she hasn’t beaten one all season….except for earlier this very tournament.

Between Wozniacki and Keys, it is the former that has looked sharper at the 2016 US Open so far. The Dane crushed Monica Niculescu in the third round, and Wozniacki surprised 10th-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova in the 2nd round. Clearly, the World No. 74 is playing above her ranking in what has been her historically best Grand Slam event.

Keys is a little more difficult to read. On the up side, her serving and groundstrokes have rarely looked more powerful. However, she certainly commits a lot of errors as well.

On two occasions in New York, the American has flirted with elimination. She scraped by the first round against Alison Riske days ago. More recently, Keys had to stage a big comeback from 1-5 down in the third set against Naomi Osaka. While surviving is all that matters, Keys did walk on the edge against two players ranked 81st and 60th in the world. Wozniacki is not likely to be so lenient with an error-prone player that awards her opponents too many chances.

On head-to-heads, there’s nothing to look at with these two players. The fourth-round match at Flushing Meadows will be their first ever meeting.

But the match promises to be very interesting because it features two talented players, both of which need to get into the quarterfinals to make a point about their respective seasons. With Keys, she needs the win to buck the trend of middle-round losses in Grand Slams. Wozniacki needs the win to prove that she’s a force once again on tour, not to mention that her ranking needs the points that come with making a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Lurking in the background, of course, is that the Keys/Wozniacki survivor has a reasonable chance to make the US Open final this year. The winner is in the quarters with no one more proven than Johanna Konta. Both Keys and Wozniacki need to take full advantage of the opportunity ahead, yet only one can get through.

If you throw out the year-long rankings and just look at who is playing better right now, I think Wozniacki’s the favorite. When playing well, she is certainly much more of a threat for deep runs than her younger counterpart is, even if you compare achievements at similar ages.