WASHINGTON, January 22, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Madison Keys looks fitter now than she did when she lost 6-3, 6-0 to her friend and fellow American Sloane Stephens last fall in the final of the U.S. Open. In a recent interview with The New York Times, her coach Lindsay Davenport said “she’s excited to go out there and play.” After all, Keys shut down her 2017 season shortly after the U.S. Open in order to heal and strengthen her left wrist following two earlier surgeries. What a different the time off has made in Keys’s play and conditioning, and in her outlook on the game.
Now, as the last American woman remaining in this year’s Australian Open draw, the 17th-ranked – and seriously impressive – Keys, who hasn’t lost a set all tournament through four matches and is averaging just 62.5 minutes on court, came out in Monday’s first match of the day on Rod Laver Arena ready to play. And, what a performance she gave for everyone to enjoy and remember. Her fourth-round opponent, 8th-seeded Caroline Garcia of France, never stood a chance.
The 22-year-old Keys made quick work of her 24-year-old French opponent, hitting 32 winners, and won easily, 6-3, 6-2, to advance to Wednesday’s quarterfinals. While both Keys and Garcia were outfitted in nearly identical Nike attire, the similarities ended with their kits.
The taller and stronger Keys carried an 11-match winning streak in Grand Slams when she’s won the first set into her match against Garcia, and she extended it to 12 with her victory Monday. She was dialed in on her serve and dictated the pace of many of the points with a nice topspin backhand throughout the brief match. She looked composed and harnessed her power.
The early dominance that Keys showed and maintained throughout both sets prompted New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey to tweet during the opening set: “Impressive early from Madison Keys, who has taken her footwork and court coverage to a new level since last season.” In a later tweet, he asked “Is that smoke coming off Madison Keys’s racket?”
After just 67 minutes, Keys served for the match – and she finished it a minute later with a flourish by hitting a cross-court forehand winner which caught Garcia off guard and standing motionless, unable to even get her racket on the return. In outpointing Garcia 70-46, the American from Rock Island, Illinois, won 78 percent of her first-serve points (29 of 37), which included nine service aces, and she broke her opponent five times in eight opportunities.
“Madison Keys has been looking solid and keeping her game focused,” said Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova, who analyzed Keys’s match for Tennis Channel’s broadcast back to the U.S. Afterward, she added: “I’ve never seen her play so controlled. She had a great game plan from Lindsay and it worked.”
Now playing pain-free tennis after missing last year’s Australian Open with her left wrist in a cast, Keys seems more confident with each match and victory. Whether she can repeat her breakout year of 2015 when, as 19-year-old, she reached the AO semifinals remains to be seen. For now, though, she’s reached her fourth Grand Slam quarterfinal and that’s put her in a positive state of mind.
After winning, Keys was all smiles as she shared her thoughts in a post-match interview just off the RLA court with Tennis Channel’s Jon Wertheim. “It’s nice to be first on and play well and be done,” she said. “When I’m playing confident, good things happen.” Asked whether she thought she could win the tournament, Keys offered no predictions. Instead, she said matter-of-factly: “I’m only concerned with my next opponent.”
Next Up: Kerber
Next, Keys will face the 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber. The 21st-ranked German rebounded from a shaky start and beat 88th-ranked Su-wei Hsieh of Taiwan, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, in a match of contrasting styles.
As she finished her interview with Wertheim, Keys was asked how she planned to spend the rest of her day after finishing her court work so early. She broke into another one of her beaming smiles, then answered: “Now, I’m going to do media, get some treatment on my wrist, and go back to my room and watch more tennis!”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.