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Tennis: Madison Keys rallies late to take 1st Cincinnati title

Madison Keys, of the United States, celebrates after defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova, of Russia, in the women's final during the Western & Southern Open tennis tournament on Aug. 18, 2019, in Mason, Ohio. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

MASON, Ohio (AP) -- Madison Keys headed back on court to receive her first Cincinnati championship trophy , beaming over a career-boosting moment that nobody expected -- not even her.

"If you told me this is where I would be a week ago, I would have laughed in your face!" she told the crowd.

Yet there she was, back in the Top 10 and on a surprising upswing heading to New York.

Keys rallied late in both sets Sunday and beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 7-5, 7-6 (5) in the Western & Southern Open for her second title of the season and the biggest of her career. After flameouts in her last three tournaments, she's got a lot of confidence heading into a U.S. Open that's loaded with intrigue.

Serena Williams dropped out of Cincinnati because of back spasms that also forced her to withdraw from the final in Toronto a week ago. Naomi Osaka, the defending U.S. Open champion, withdrew from her semifinal match in Cincinnati with discomfort in her left knee.

And now Keys is on the rise. She'll move up to a No. 10 ranking for New York after another gritty showing, breaking Kuznetsova to tie both sets 5-5 and pull them out.

Why so unexpected? She hadn't made it past the second round in any of her last three tournaments, including Wimbledon. Plus, she had a tough draw for a tournament played in 90-degree weather for much of the week.

"It's definitely a great building block," Keys said. "I want to do well in New York and have a good end to the season."

At 34, Kuznetsova was the oldest finalist in the Western & Southern Open's history. She beat three top-10 players in a tournament -- Sloane Stephens, Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty -- for the first time in her 19-year career.

The 153rd-ranked player got a late start on the season as she completed a seven-month recovery from a knee injury. In her ninth tournament of the season, she got her game together and got her best result in two years.

"Honestly, I didn't expect to be so good at this tournament," she said.

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