By: Nick McCarvel
Seven years. Twenty-two matches. Two finals.
Finally, on Sunday, American Madison Keys reigned supreme at the Volvo Car Open, champion by way of a week of blistering, powerful and yet thoughtful tennis.
She played all of that on Sunday, defeating 2011 champion Caroline Wozniacki for the title, 7-6(5) 6-3 in an engaging championship match.
It was blistering tennis from Keys, who swatted 54 winners in a deadly display of power.
It’s the fourth title of Keys’ career, the 24 year old from Orlando denying Wozniacki her 31st. It’s Madison’s first win on clay, having made the final here in 2015 as well as in Rome in 2016.
Wozniacki was playing in her third Charleston final, having finished as runner-up in 2009 and winning the title two years later. The former world No. 1 remains the winningest player on tour in Charleston, though her win-loss record drops to 19-5.
Keys improves to 16-6 at the event she has called one of her favorites on tour. In her debut appearance in 2013, she played Venus Williams in the quarterfinals, and said after the loss that it was a pinch-me moment.
Since then, Keys has established herself as a top star on the WTA, reaching the US Open final in 2017 and rising to as high as number 7 in the world rankings. Injuries have been her downfall, most recently a left knee injury that cut her 2018 short.
"Every time I come here I feel like I’m home," an emotional Keys said on court. "The support I have from everyone in the stands means the world to me."
She gave a nod to new coach Juan Todero, as well, who she just began working with.
"It was a really good first week for my coach and I," she said, adding with a smile: "Hopefully we can keep it up."
She’s the first American winner here since Sloane Stephens in 2016 and collects a $141,420 paycheck for the victory.
In the match, Wozniacki got an early break to go up 2-1, but Keys would break right back, and they would trade blows into a first-set tiebreak, where Keys would lead 5-3. In that ninth point, the two had a back-and-forth exchange and Keys hit a defensive ball high. Wozniacki let it float right by her, thinking it would go out, but it landed just inside the baseline.
Keys would win the set three points later, belting a backhand winner to seal it. In the second, she broke for a 4-2 and really never looked back. She won the match on a forehand winner... again, her 54th.
"In the important points she managed to win every single one," Wozniacki told reporters after the match. "I had my chances and opportunities. It got tough in that second set."
On court, Wozniacki was straight to the point: "Congratulations on an incredible week," she told Keys. "Just too good for me."
Too good for everyone, indeed. And now - because of that - champion in Charleston for a first time.
Doubles veterans Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Alicja Rosolska captured the Volvo Car Open doubles title Sunday, capping off a week in which they did not drop a single set across four matches.
The German-Polish pair were too strong against Irina Khromacheva and Veronika Kudermetova, a first-time team, winning 7-6(7) 6-2 late Sunday afternoon.
While it's a first doubles title for Groenefeld/Rosolska together, it's the 21st of Groenefeld's career and ninth for Rosolska.
Groenefeld/Rosolska had lost a mere nine games in three matches played before the final, where they were tested whole-heartedly by Khromacheva/Kudermetova, who had decided to play together last-minute.
The Russians had taken out both the No. 2 and 3 seeds, but they failed to capitalize on a set point in the first-set breaker and couldn't overcome their foes in set two.
Groenefeld was making her eighth career appearance in Charleston and reaches the final - and wins - for the first time.
By: Nick McCarvel
As the oldest of four sisters, Madison Keys doesn’t take lightly her place as a role model in this world, and nearly three years ago, the Illinois native set out on what she considers to be one of the most important journeys of her career.
She partnered with FearlesslyGIRL, an anti-bullying non-profit aimed at making the world a kinder place for young girls, which Keys, as a professional athlete, knows is an uphill battle.
“I want people to think ‘would you say this to your daughter?’” Keys said when she initially joined the “Kinder Girl World” movement back in 2016, focusing initially on cyber-bullying.
She hosted her first town hall-style assembly in her hometown of Rock Creek, Ill. It was – of course – a smashing success.
“It’s really just getting a group of girls in one room and putting them in a judgement-free zone,” Keys said last year after a summit meeting in Miami. “A lot of them go back to their schools and start their own clubs.”
Founded in 2011, FearlesslyGIRL puts on assemblies while also supplying classroom curriculum to over 200 chapters in seven different countries around the world, including 27 states in the U.S.
All aimed at empowering young women to make the world a better place with and for one another.
“Madison has accomplished a lot of great things on the tennis court because she has dedicated lots and lots of hours to her career,” said Madison’s mom, Christine Keys. “To me, as her mom, some of the most significant successes she has accomplished, and what makes me so very proud of her, are the times when she touches the girls at the FearlesslyGIRL summits and I can actually see their eyes light up because she made them feel special. Those are very proud momma moments.”
Christine will have another “proud momma moment” this week when the Volvo Car Open honors Madison as a “Player Who Makes a Difference.” Last year, local star Shelby Rogers won the inaugural award.
“Madison’s support of and dedication to FearlesslyGIRL is inspirational and heartwarming,” said tournament manager Eleanor Adams. “By example, Madison is giving young girls the strength to stand up for themselves and to support each other with kindness. I admire the difference she is making in these girls' lives and I am so proud of her.”
Beyond gatherings at home in Illinois and in Miami, Keys hosted some 70 girls before last year’s US Open in New York, detailing for them how she continued to believe in herself after losing in the 2017 US Open championship match.
“It was very interesting,” 12-year-old Cymone Crump, a junior player told the US Open website. “I learned that all girls go through the same stuff, and we should talk about it.”
It’s an honor well deserved for Keys, a person who lives her life just like she plays her tennis: Fearlessly.
By: Nick McCarvel
Ben Navarro grew up in a football family, on the sidelines of Princeton University games as his father, Frank, coached season after season. It wasn’t until his mid-20s that he discovered the sport of tennis, both as a player and a fan.
It was then that Navarro – in his own words – fell in love with the sport.
“For me, tennis is such a beautiful mix of artistry and athleticism, which is what spurred my passion for it,” Navarro said in an interview. “I play – not incredibly well – and I know how hard it is. Seeing the pros do it and playing myself, it really helps me appreciate it all.”
Passion for the sport is a large part of what spurred Navarro, a local businessman and founder of the non-profit Meeting Street Schools, to purchase the Volvo Car Open in September. His other motive? Navarro aims to keep the storied event local for a long, long time, while also giving a broader community the chance to share in its excitement.
“This tournament is truly one of the highlights of the year in Charleston,” Navarro explained. “I have been a devoted fan since we first moved our family here fifteen years ago. It’s a chance to see all the top female players right here in our own hometown.”
Asked about the staff behind the scenes, Navarro raved, “Bob Moran and his team have created this incredible atmosphere.” And that atmosphere is something Navarro wants to build on at the Family Circle Tennis Center. This year’s tournament, which runs from March 30 to April 7, will feature world famous Lowcountry cuisine, a first-ever gospel brunch, and an immersive yoga experience led by local guru Sarah Frick.
Navarro envisions the Tennis Center becoming a must-see for locals and visitors alike. “My primary overall goal for this facility is that – for its size – it becomes the premier place to enjoy an event in the Southeast, whether that be a tennis tournament, a concert or a festival of some sort.” To that end, Navarro and his team have already attracted top stars Dave Matthews (April 20), Kenny Chesney (April 25) and Kacey Musgraves (Sept. 20) to this year’s lineup.
“I’m very excited to bring world-class talent into the arena” Navarro explained. “In the not-too-distant future, fans can expect to see improvements to the stadium commensurate with its status as a world class venue.”
In addition to bringing the “best of the best” in women’s tennis to the Volvo Car Open each year, Navarro also intends to open up the tournament to more of the community... including Meeting Street Schools teachers, students and other patrons who might not otherwise be able to attend such a global event.
“We are going to bend over backwards to help get kids from our schools to the Volvo Car Open, and to attract a variety of people from around the community to share the experience with us,” Navarro said.
It’s no small side-note that Navarro shares his contagious enthusiasm for tennis with his four children as well. In fact, his daughter Emma ranks among the world’s top 25 junior players, and she recently reached the finals of junior doubles at the Australian Open. The seventeen- year-old Navarro will play in this week’s Volvo Car Open singles main draw on Tuesday, April 2, having earned a wild card into the event last July as the winner of the USTA National Girls 18 Clay Court Championships at LTP Tennis.
Success – and now tennis – runs in the Navarro family. And the Volvo Car Open is now poised to remain part of the greater Charleston family, just as it should.
By: Nick McCarvel
In the 19 years the Volvo Car Open has called Daniel Island home, there have been some memorable finals.
Capriati vs. Hingis. Henin vs. Serena. Venus vs. Conchita Martinez.
Sunday another must-see championship match will be added to that list, as 2011 winner here Caroline Wozniacki takes center stage to try and win title No. 31 of her career against American Madison Keys, the 2015 runner-up.
It’s Madi vs. Caro. And it couldn’t be any more compelling.
“I’m definitely going to look at how she's been playing and just try to have a really great game plan,” said Keys, 24, who lost to Angelique Kerber four years ago at this same hurdle. “More than that, (I’m) just focused on myself, and I'm really proud of what I've done this week. I'm just going to go out and try to have some fun.”
What has been “fun” is watching these two champions progress over the last week in Charleston.
Wozniacki has dropped just one set while Keys has lost just two. In their two previous meetings it’s been one-way traffic for Wozniacki, who won both in straight-sets, most recently at Indian Wells in 2016.
But both of those were on hard courts, and the green clay is their first week of the season transitioning to the slower, slippery stuff.
“I just need to keep working on my movement (on clay) and keep working on my game so that I get better every week,” Wozniacki said. “I just think I've had a positive attitude this week, and I think I've played some smart tennis.”
Part of that smart tennis has been attributed to Wozniacki’s addition of Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champion, to her coaching team this week. She does, however, have a particular affinity for playing in the Lowcountry.
Saturday’s semifinal win was her 19th in her career here, the most on the WTA. Second? Keys, at 15.
Keys would like to finish anything but second come Sunday afternoon, when all eyes in Charleston - and really, in the global game of women’s tennis - will be on the Volvo Car Open final.
It’s a third for Wozniacki, having been runner-up here in her debut appearance in 2009, ten years ago. While Wozniacki is in search of her first title in six months (Beijing), Keys hasn’t claimed a title since the summer of 2017, when she won at Stanford.
That all sets us up for what promises to be a compelling Sunday matinee. It’s the kind of clash we’re lucky to witness: A major champ taking on a former major finalist with a tournament trophy on the line.
Grab your popcorn. This is what they call a “popcorn” match.
By: Nick McCarvel
There's something about Charleston for Caroline Wozniacki.
The Dane, champion here in 2011, is back into the final for the third time in her career (also 2009 runner-up) after a decisive 6-3 6-4 win over No. 16 seed Petra Martic on Saturday afternoon.
She'll player 2015 finalist Madison Keys, who was on fire - despite a rain delay - against Monica Puig in a 6-4 6-0 victory.
It's a third meeting between Wozniacki and Keys, Caro having won the previous two, which were both played on hard courts. The most recent was at Indian Wells in 2017.
Wozniacki's eight-year gap from 2011 to this year is the longest break between finals for any player in tournament history.
She moves to 19-4 on Daniel Island, the best of any player on tour.
The No. 5 seed has dropped just one set in four matches played, in the third round to Mihaela Buzarnescu. She has moved with increasing confident throughout the week, due in part thanks to Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 French Open champ that she has brought onto her team for the week.
"I just think I've had a positive attitude this week, and I think I've played some smart tennis, and have managed to return a lot of balls deep and then try and open up the court," Wozniacki told reporters.
Keys and Puig, playing the second semifinal, were on serve at 3-4 the Puerto Rican serving when rain began to fall on Volvo Car Stadium. They left court for just over an hour.
When they returned, however, Puig could manage just one out of the next nine games played. Keys was on fire, and the reward is a second trip to the final.
"I'm focused on myself," Keys said. "I'm really proud of what I've done this week and how I've bounced back from a couple tough losses. So I'm just going to go out and try to have some fun."
In doubles, Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Alicja Rosolska have booked their spot in the final after a 6-1 6-2 drubbing of Anna-Lena Friedsam and Sara Sorribes Tormo.
They'll play Irina Khromacheva and Veronika Kudermetova, the Russian duo who has paired up for the first time, in the final.
By: Nick McCarvel
The Volvo Car Open was just about to begin and Irina Khromacheva didn’t have a doubles partner to play with. Her countrywoman, Veronika Kudermetova, had planned to play with someone else, but when Irina reached out, Veronika thought it was a good idea.
And on the last day of the tournament, the first-time pairing will play for the title inside Volvo Car Stadium.
The Russians have taken out both the third- and second-seeded teams en route to the finals and Sunday morning they face the No. 4 team, Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Alicja Rosolka, pictured, who are playing in their combined 60th career doubles final.
It is, however, their first final together, as well, though the team played for a spell alongside one another in 2014 and 2015.
It will be the biggest final of the careers of Khromacheva, 23, and Kudermetova, 21. But if their effort so far this week is any indication, they won’t be intimidated.
Saturday late afternoon they won 6-3 6-3 over Lucie Hradecka and Andreja Klepac, both of whom had made the final here in the past. That followed their late-night win on Friday over Raquel Atawo and Katarina Srebotnik, Srebotnik the defending champ in Charleston (with a different partner).
Groenefeld/Rosolska have been untroubled this tournament, however, not dropping a single set and succumbing only nine games — and that’s in three matches played.
The first match was the most challenging, as well, against Americans Kaitlyn Christian and Abigail Spears, both established doubles players themselves. Groenefeld/Rosolska won 6-1 6-4.
It would be a crowning achievement for Groenefeld, 33, to win here: It’s her ninth appearance, but first time in the final.
There’s a lot of firsts happening out on the doubles court Sunday. But who gets their first Volvo Car Open title? Let's find out.
By: Nick McCarvel
While Caroline Wozniacki and Madison Keys are familiar names, don’t count out Monica Puig and Petra Martic. Here’s five things to know about our semifinal field at the 2019 Volvo Car Open.
Puig: Olympic-Level Concentration
Puig won gold for Puerto Rico - making history by booming the first athlete to do so in *ANY* sport - at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and she’s had up-and-down results since, entering this week as the world No. 63.
But she said the last few weeks she's taken to meditating before she goes to sleep, and believes it's not only helping her off the court, but on it, too.
“I think when you’re willing to accept things and when you’re willing to welcome new things after you resisted it for a long time… well, better late than never," she explained. "Now I really understand what mindfulness is all about and what I need to do to take the steps forward (in my tennis).”
Martic: Don’t Call it a Comeback
In the summer of 2016, Martic suffered a back injury that she thought might end her career. It took her nearly a full year to come back, and when she did so - at the French Open in 2017 - she made it all the way to the second week of the major.
Martic fell out of the top 600 in the rankings and thought she might never play again. Now 28, she’s been inside the top 100 over the last two years since making her comeback.
Madison Keys Has a Soft Spot for Charleston
Keys is playing here for the seventh consecutive year, and she’s said it’s one of her favorite stops on tour (no surprise!). Actually, she’s grown up here, in a way: She had her first big match against Venus Williams in the 2013 quarterfinals, then made the final in 2015, losing a tight one to Angelique Kerber.
It’s her second consecutive year in the semifinals here. Last year she bowed out to eventual champ Kiki Bertens.
Wozniacki Has a Clay Whisperer on Her Team
While Wozniacki has won a major title herself (the Australian Open last year), she added one to her coaching team this week to help her adjust to the clay. Wozniacki hired 2010 French Open winner Francesca Schiavone to help her and her father, Piotr, with the transition to clay, and so far, so good: Woz is back in the final four here for the first time since 2011.
15 for 15…
It’s the 15th WTA event of the 2019 season and we’ll have a 15th new champion. Belinda Bencic was the lone remaining player to have one a title this year, but the Swiss player lost out on Friday to Martic, meaning the trend will continue and we’ll have another new champ come Sunday.
But, question is: Who is it going to be?
By: Nick McCarvel
In simple terms, it’s the veterans vs. the newcomers in Saturday’s two doubles semifinals at the Volvo Car Open.
No. 4 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Alicja Rosolska will take on Anna-Lena Friedsam and Sara Sorribes Tormo, the latter duo partnering up for the first time.
On the bottom half of the draw it’s the No. 2 seeds Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Klepac (pictured) taking on another first-time team in Irina Khromacheva and Veronika Kudermetova.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride in the doubles, which is always an abundant crowd favorite for fans throughout the week at the Family Circle Tennis Center.
It was Friedsam/Sorribes Tormo who took out the No. 1 seeds Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke in the quarterfinals on Thursday, the German-Spanish duo winning 7-6(1) 6-1.
They’ll meet another German in Groenefeld, an experienced veteran playing alongside another longtime top player in Rosolska, from Poland.
Groenefeld, 33, is playing here for a seventh time. She’s a three-time semi-finalist, having never made the last two.
On the bottom half, Khromacheva/Kudermetova, both from Russia, soared through their first match and then needed a match tie-break to beat the No. 3 seeds Raquel Atawo and Katarina Srebotnik, Srebotnik having won this title last year alongside Alla Kudryavtseva.
The headline-grabbers of the event may have been two local teens, however, as wild cards Chloe Beck (Watkinsville, GA) and Emma Navarro (Charleston) shocked Darija Jurak and Jelena Ostapenko 1-6 6-3 1-0 [13-11] in a first round match on the Althea Gibson Club Court to the delight of a packed crowd.
Beck/Navarro would fall short against Hradecka/Klepac, however, losing 6-3 6-2 on Friday morning.
Hradecka was a finalist here in 2017 while Klepac made the last two here just last year.
So, who advances to championship Sunday? It’s a wait-and-see in what has been a surprising week.
By: Nick McCarvel
And then there were four.
Saturday afternoon the final four of the Volvo Car Open take center stage, and it’s a day that offers intriguing backstories and a clash power and consistency for the right to play for the 2019 Charleston crown.
Caroline Wozniacki, winner here in 2011, is the lone remaining former winner in the field, though 2015 runner-up Madison Keys is still alive, as well.
They’ll meet Petra Martic and Monica Puig, respectively, two players who have had career weeks on Daniel Island after suffering from rocky starts to the 2019 season.
Here, we preview the two semifinals to come on what is meant to be a spectacular day of tennis.
 Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) vs.  Petra Martic (CRO)
Volvo Car Stadium, not before 1pm
While the Danish star is the fifth seed here, she’s also a sparkling 5-0 lifetime against Martic, who is playing in the biggest semifinal of her career. Martic is looking for her first big WTA title, as Wozniacki goes for number 31.
But that doesn’t mean our 2011 champ is taking her 28-year-old foe lightly.
“It’s definitely going to be tough,” Wozniacki said. “She’s playing well on this surface and she has that big kick… a good serve, forehand, likes to mix it up. I need to be ready from every point.”
And though Wozniacki has an undefeated record vs. Martic, the two have never met on clay before.
 Madison Keys (USA) vs. Monica Puig (PUR)
Volvo Car Stadium, second after 1pm
There is no such head-to-head edge in the second semi, with Keys and Puig having split their four career meetings two-two. The last time they met, however, was in 2016, Keys winning a third-round clash at the French Open.
Puig is soaring with confidence, however, the 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist telling reporters after her Friday night win over Danielle Collins that she hasn’t felt this good about her tennis since that Rio win for Olympic gold.
“I haven’t really had many good results strung together in a long time,” she said. “It’s been a minute since I’ve had four matches in a row… So I’m really happy with that. I just gotta continue to put my head down and keep fighting and keep believing in myself. It’s not over yet.”
Keys knows much the same, Madi having beaten good friend and rival Sloane Stephens for the first time in four meetings.
But the American feels like she is playing some of her best tennis, too.
And that’s just what we want: Four confident players all eyeing the Volvo Car Open trophy to kick off championship weekend. The next 36 hours are sure to be fun.