American eighth seed Madison Keys claimed a dramatic comeback win over a tearful Naomi Osaka of Japan to reach the fourth round of the US Open.
Leading 5-1 in the third set and on the cusp of the biggest victory of her career, Osaka crumbled as Keys swept the next five games en route to a victory that left her stunned 18-year-old opponent fighting back tears, handing Keys a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3) victory.
“Those aren’t the most fun matches but I just knew that if I stayed in the match that I could maybe have a chance to come back and get back in it,” said Keys, who will next meet former world number one and US Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki.
“Once I was able to get a little bit of momentum, I felt like I found my game a bit more. At that point, I knew I had to kind of step up or else I was going to be going home.”
It was an excruciating collapse by her opponent played out on the game’s biggest stage and the Japanese world number 81 was left in tears several times as her lead slowly slipped away.
Osaka came out swinging freely from the baseline like a player with nothing lose but when the teenager suddenly looked up at the scoreboard as she lead 5-1 in the third set, the weight of reality dropped upon her.
A distraught Osaka was at one point hanging her head and covering her eyes as she walked to a corner of the court.
But there was no place to hide inside the massive Arthur Ashe Stadium from the gaze of thousands of fans or a ruthless Keys, who moved in for the kill and clinched the comeback when Osaka sent a return wide.
2‘It just makes you stronger’
Osaka’s meltdown was in many ways reminiscent of a distraught Martina Hingis’ 1999 collapse to Steffi Graf on centre court at Roland Garros and Jana Novotna’s tearful loss to Graf in the 1993 Wimbledon final when the Czech sobbed on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent.
“At the end of the match, it kind of came down to experience, being in that situation before, having lost some tough matches,” Keys said.
“It happens. It just makes you stronger.
“You kind of just put it in the back of your mind and use it to fuel yourself and get back out there and try to get better.”
The 21-year-old Keys has made an adventurous start to the year’s final grand slam, rallying from a set and a break down in her opening match to see off Germany’s Alison Riske in a three-set nail-biter.