Keys captures second career title at Birmingham

American Madison Keys celebrated moving into the world's top 10 for the first time by winning the grass title in Birmingham in emphatic style on Sunday. She defeated Barbora Strycova in straight sets.

Madison Keys (left) with her winner's trophy alongside Barbora Strycova.   -  Reuters

American Madison Keys celebrated moving into the world's top 10 for the first time by winning the grass title in Birmingham in emphatic style on Sunday.

The seventh seed eased to a 6-3, 6-4 win over the unseeded Czech veteran Barbora Strycova, setting her up perfectly for a tilt at the Wimbledon crown in a week's time. Keys, for whom this was a second WTA title, is the first US woman to debut in the top 10 since Serena Williams in 1999.

The 21-year-old produced some ferocious hitting, but although she made fewer errors compared with earlier in the week, there remained inconsistencies which allowed Strycova chances to get a grip on the second set. With Wimbledon just eight days away, Chris Evert, three times a Wimbledon champion, tweeted her expectations of her compatriot.

"She's no flash in the pan. She's had to do it in her time - but now she's ready," Evert wrote.

Keys' performance in the final was her best of the week, with more variations of pace and a much greater variety of direction - but it was almost the first time in a week that has seen some of the worst weather in the tournament's 35-year history that the conditions were half-decent.

Clinical first set

As a result she often looked like the top 10 player she will become next week, and even finished the first set like a future world number one, something which Serena Williams recently claimed Keys can become. Keys made more errors in the second set, and Strycova, playing her second Birmingham final in three years, had the tenacity and stamina - despite playing her 18th set of the week - to get close to turning the match around.

She did that by taking longer pauses, sometimes slowing the rallies down, sometimes varying the pace, and counter-attacking when there was a half-chance to do so.

Those tactics earned her three break points early in the second set and a fourth break point in the eighth game. Had the Czech sneaked that she would have been serving to level the match, after which anything might have happened.

But when Keys was really required to avoid errors she did, only slightly easing up on the pace and still controlling the placement of her utterly fearsome forehand drive. She duly finished with a flourish, serving out for the match to love, admitting that she felt the pressure that Strycova had created, and announcing that she would drink the champagne she had won along with $146,000.

Keys was also handed the Maud Watson trophy, named after the first women's winner at Wimbledon. "I am just going to focus on this - I am really happy," she said. "I will focus on Wimbledon tomorrow."

An hour later, though, she was already looking forward to the third Grand Slam tournament of the season. "Getting all these matches in a row is a huge opportunity which will definitely help me at Wimbledon," she acknowledged.

"I love this surface, so the longer I am on it, the happier I am."

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