Bethanie Mattek-Sands continues to roll on at Apia International Sydney, stunning top seed and defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round.
Radwanska, who had received a bye into the second round, could not contend with the power of Mattek-Sands, a qualifier into the main draw who has now won five straight matches in Sydney.
Mattek Sands recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the opening set to record a 7-5 6-2 victory, and now faces fellow American Madison Keys, a three set winner over wildcard Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia.
“I’ve never beaten her (Radwanska), so it’s probably one of the best wins of my career,” Mattek-Sands said.
“I’m really happy to be competing right now. I had gotten injured at the end of last year, so I’m really happy to be out there right now.
“I stuck to my game. I wanted to attack return of serves. I wanted to set up points with my serve. You know, (part) of my game plan against anyone. But against her I wanted to keep to the same. You have to be ready for her to get another ball back. That was the key: just always ready for it to come back one more time.”
At the beginning of the match, such an outcome looked highly unlikely, as the American sprayed balls and struggled to match Radwanska’s consistency in the opening three games.
Yet it showed her commitment to being aggressive, and when she began finding the mark with her powerful groundstrokes, the tide rapidly turned.
Mattek-Sands closed the gap to 3-3 as Radwanska seemed unprepared for the onslaught coming at her, frequently caught a step slow and late with her racquet preparation.
The Pole, as expected, recovered; showing the form that won her four straight matches at last week’s Hopman Cup, she broke back to lead 4-3, and after an entertaining eighth game that saw Mattek-Sands pull off a tweener – she eventually lost the point – Radwanska had moved ahead 5-3, benefitting as Mattek-Sands continually pulled the trigger too early in rallies.
It seemed to everyone that Radwanska had stemmed the tide and stamped her authority on the match.
All except Mattek-Sands, apparently.
The American held serve to keep herself in contention, and then in the tenth game, incredibly, outfoxed the wily Radwanska, levelling at 5-5 after playing a short angled winner off a Radwanska drop shot and celebrating with an animated fist pump.
The dynamics of the set had completely changed, and riding this new wave of momentum, Mattek-Sands rolled through the next two games, clinching the set with a forehand winner.
The large crowd in attendance at Ken Rosewall Arena was stunned as Mattek raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set, looking energetic yet composed while Radwanska appeared listless, struggling to find the court with her normally ultra-consistent shots.
While Mattek’s serve was a major weapon – she aced Radwanska out wide on her way to a 4-1 lead – the Pole’s was a liability. She spun in a first serve at 133km/h to open the sixth game, and Mattek-Sands treated it with contempt, smiting a cold winner.
It seemed a sore shoulder – which had reared its head in Perth – was bothering Radwanska somewhat.
“Maybe a little bit,” she revealed after the match, “but I have good painkillers.
“Also on the other hand she (Mattek-Sands) was really playing good today.”
Soon it was 5-1, and although there were some nervy moments for the American and a blown match point when serving for the win, she was gifted victory in the very next game when Radwanska committed two loose errors to end the contest.
With the draw having opened up, Mattek-Sands now finds herself battling another unseeded player in the form of Keys, just 18 years of age.
Although Keys leads the head-to-head 2-1, Mattek-Sands won their most recent battle in Madrid in 2013.
“We were just talking in the locker room. She’s a great upcoming player. Plays aggressive shots, big serve,” Mattek-Sands said.
“We’ve had some battles in the past, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I know she’s been playing great and she did well here last year, too.
“I think it’ll be a really good match.”