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Madison Keys cuts herself a break in Credit One Bank Invitational victory

Madison Keys

Defending Volvo Car Open champion Madison Keys lines up a forehand in the Credit One Bank Invitational. Sarah Thacker/Special to The Post and Courier 

If WTA Tour star Madison Keys has a brand, it's about being nice to other people.

Her foundation is called "Kindness Wins." At this week's Credit One Bank Invitational, she's the captain of Team Kindness.

And before the Volvo Car Open was canceled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic, Keys visited Meeting Street Academy in Charleston to spread her message to elementary school students, even giving tennis lessons to youngsters on the playground.

Saturday on Daniel Island, the 25-year-old Keys found she had to cut herself a break.

After blowing a chance for a 6-3, 5-0 lead against No. 4-ranked Sofia Kenin — and then failing to cash in on a match point — the 13th-ranked Keys finally reasserted herself in the match tie-break for a 6-3, 5-7 (10-2) win at LTP Daniel Island.

The triumph in the battle of the highest-ranked players in the 16-team field at the Credit One Bank Invitational gave Keys seven straight victories at Volvo Car Open Stadium, including her run to last year's VCO championship.

Keys unleashed her powerful serve and some backhand winners to build a big lead, and had a break point for a 6-3, 5-0 lead on Kenin, the reigning Australian Open champ. But she couldn't convert, and then sailed a forehand long on a match point against Kenin's serve in the ninth game of the second set.

But Keys righted herself in the 10-point match tie-break, winning 10 of 12 points.

"I think that, knowing that the points that I lost were not necessarily bad points, I had to give myself a little bit of grace," said Keys, who has won five WTA Tour singles titles and been ranked as high as No. 7 in the world. "I don't really have those big moments under my belt right now, and I want to make sure these matches come in handy when the Tour does come back. So I was trying not to be too hard on myself."

Indeed, Saturday's match was a lot like Keys' opener in the Credit One Bank Invitational, a 16-player team event put together by Volvo Car Open owner Ben Navarro and tournament director Bob Moran. The exhibition is designed as a return-to-tennis after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the WTA Tour in March, and as a way to benefit frontline health-care workers at the Medical University.

In her opening match against No. 134 Caroline Dolehide, built three big leads before finally making the third one stand up for a 6-1, 6-7 (6), 10-4 victory in another match tie-break.

"Unfortunately, that's happened to me this week," Keys said. "When you play someone like Sofia, you know she will up her level when it matters, and she definitely did that at the end of the second set. But I thought I had a pretty clean tie-break, and I was happy to put up three points for my team."

Keys' victory cut Team Peace's lead to 14-13 over her own Team Kindness.

Later Saturday, Charleston's Shelby Rogers was set to play for Team Kindness against Team Peace captain Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

On Sunday, all 16 players, including Rogers and fellow Charlestonians Emma Navarro and Alison Riske, will take part in four doubles matches to decide the winner of the team event. Each doubles match will be worth three points

Saturday's matches

Madison Keys (Team Kindness) d. Sofia Kenin (Team Peace), 6-3, 5-7 (10-2)

Ajla Tomljanovic/Caroline Dolehide (Team Peace) d. Leylah Fernandez/Monica Puig (Team Kindness), 7-6, 7-6

Sloane Stephens (Team Kindness) vs. Jennifer Brady (Team Peace)

Bethanie Mattek-Sands (Team Peace) vs. Shelby Rogers (Team Kindness)

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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