The first women's semifinalist at the French Open might be one of the most unlikely.
After all, Madison Keys entered this year's tournament with a 6-4 record on clay this year, with her best showing a final-four finish in Charleston, S.C.
Apparently, she's found her footing.
With her 7-6 (5), 6-4 win over 2016 French Open quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva, the American is now through to her second semifinal in her last three Grand Slams.
WATCH—Match point from Keys' win over Putintseva at Roland Garros:
At the beginning stages of the match, both players were settled in comfortably, remaining on serve through the first six games. In the seventh, it was Putintseva who broke through first. The Kazakh, who has struggled this year and was barely Top 100 entering the French Open, tracked down a Keys drop shot and flicked a better one back to gain the first break.
Putintseva then held to take a 5-3 lead. Keys held in her next game to force Putintseva to serve out the set. Facing the possibility of an early deficit, Keys applied more pressure on the world No. 98 and got the break back. After a comfortable hold of her own, Keys kept pushing, earning two set points on Putintseva’s serve. After staving those off, Putintseva took the first two points of the tiebreak, only to see her early advantage quickly erased as Keys—continually blasting her groundstrokes—won the next four points in a row. The American would go on to capture the first set, 7-6 (5).
The second set started off in similar fashion to the opener, with both players remaining on serve through the first few games. This time, it was Keys who got the late break to place herself in position to serve for a berth in the semifinals. On match point, Keys served an ace out wide, pushing her even deeper into the second week of the French Open.
At last year’s French Open, Keys—still trying to regain her form after a wrist injury—fell in the second round to qualifier Petra Martic. After struggling through the clay and grass seasons, the young American finally started to regain her stride, culminating with a runner-up finish to Sloane Stephens at the U.S. Open.
Grand Slams clearly bring out the best in her, of late. Coming off a quarterfinal finish in Australia this year, she now awaits the winner of the Sloane Stephens-Daria Kasatkina match in the semifinals. Aside from three-set struggles in the third round, both of those players have been on cruise control in their other three matches.
Keys, displaying a previously unseen capacity for clay-court tennis, appears to be ready for the challenge.
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