Kerber may have the Keys to title

Angelique Kerber, left, from Germany, signs autographs for fans after defeating Andrea Petkovic in semifinal action at the Family Circle Cup tennis tournament in Charleston, S.C., Saturday, April 11, 2015. Kerber won 6-4, 6-4. (AP Photo/Mic Smith)

Madison Keys brings back memories of Mary Pierce’s amazing 2000 Hilton Head Island exhibition of one-shot tennis.

Americans would love to see Keys’ streak continue in Sunday’s Family Circle Cup final against German Angelique Kerber.

The 20-year-old American has the game to do it. But it’s certainly not a done deal when you consider Keys’ opposition so far on Daniel Island.

Keys has given up only 14 games in four matches. That’s come against Kateryna Bondarenko and one- dimensional doubles veteran Lucie Hradecka, both qualifiers, as well as gritty little Lauren Davis and Andreea Mitu. Who?

Yes, thank goodness for the 66th-ranked Davis. The other three victims have an average world ranking of 128.

So, maybe it’s a little premature to get excited about Keys’ play in this Family Circle Cup. But you can’t overlook a player who plays a game as big as the one Keys has displayed this week.

Big serve ... big forehand. Or big service return ... big forehand.

You can bet that the left-handed Kerber will find Keys’ backhand on a regular basis. If Keys does have a weakness, other than inconsistency, it’s her backhand.

Keys’ hope is her serve. If she can repeatedly put it into play in the 120 mph range, Keys will have a chance.

But back to 2000 when Pierce pounded out one-sided victory after another, even in the 56-minute final that saw her obliterate Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario’s consistency and grittiness in a 6-1, 6-0 romp. That one game was only the 11th that Pierce gave up in the entire tournament. She put on an awesome demonstration of sheer power all tournament long.

Enter Kerber. This 16th-ranked 27-year-old is all about fight. She didn’t give up a point without a fight against old friend and defending Family Circle champion Andrea Petkovic in the semifinals.

Kerber is a picture of concentration as she often practically sits down while hitting low backhands. Plus, there’s the left hand that made the difference in a 6-4, 6-4 semifinal win that snapped her three-match losing streak to Petkovic.

Kerber’s left-handed strokes and serve should be just enough to throw off Keys’ power, although Keys managed her first victory over Kerber last year in three sets on grass at Eastbourne after a pair of straight-set hard-court wins by Kerber.

Hradecka’s serve was the only thing that caused any problem for Keys in her 6-1, 6-4 win on Saturday. But once Keys hit the first groundstroke, she usually was in control of the point. Keys isn’t likely to be in such control in the final, going against a player of Kerber’s ability. A former No. 5 player in the world, Kerber should be able to keep constant pressure on Keys with her consistently deep, penetrating left-handed groundstrokes, especially to Keys’ backhand corner.

In the face of pressure, power doesn’t always work, especially on clay. Baseline rallies aren’t a power hitter’s dream come true.

For the first time in the tournament, look for Keys to have to hit a lot of balls on Sunday.

Of course, Keys has the big service weapon. But while Kerber doesn’t have the service power of Keys, the German regularly hits the first serve with precision and placement.

My pick: Kerber. Even more so if it goes three sets.

Reach James Beck at

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