By Rory Carroll
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hard-hitting American Madison Keys overcame a slow start to beat Aleksandra Krunic 4-6 6-1 6-2 in the U.S. Open third round on Saturday and move a step closer to a return trip to the final.
Keys, who lost to compatriot Sloane Stephens in last year's final, overpowered the defensive-minded Krunic as the Serb struggled to handle the 14th seed's punishing groundstrokes and powerful serve on a sunny day at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Krunic was the sharper of the pair at the outset, breaking Keys in the opening game and holding serve the rest of the way to capture the first set and put the partisan New York crowd on edge.
But Keys, 23, came out more aggressively in the second set, breaking Krunic in the second game and racing to a 3-0 lead that she would not relinquish as errors began to pile up for the 25-year-old.
The service games of both players deserted them in the third as the set started with five straight breaks that put Keys ahead 3-2.
The American finally held serve to take a 4-2 lead and hit her 43rd winner on match point to advance to a fourth-round meeting with 29th seed Dominika Cibulkova, who upset fourth seed Angelique Kerber in their third-round match.
"In the first set she was holding her ground really well and kind of dictating the points," Keys told reporters.
"When I'm playing tennis, I want to be the one that's dictating points and the one that's not running as much. That was the biggest adjustment I had to make."
Keys said the experience of playing in big matches like last year's final has helped her better deal with high-pressure situations.
"The biggest thing was just being on that stage more and more and being more comfortable in a situation where I lost the first set, but I know I can come back," she said.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)