Ashleigh Barty has come a long way since the last time she faced Madison Keys at Roland Garros, two years ago, when she was humbled by the American in the first round, 6-3, 6-2. On Thursday, she atoned for that result—and in the process, earned her first spot in a Grand Slam semifinal—with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Keys.
"The whole match, it was very close," Barty said. "I took my one opportunity I got in the first set. It's just amazing. I feel like I played great tennis."
She had to play great, as Keys didn't put forth a bad performance at all. Keys has her big serve and huge hitting to bail her out—she hit eight aces over the two sets—while Barty relies on her slice and net charges to disrupt her opponents' rhythm. Barty's serve was the steadier of the two on Thursday, as she didn't drop a service game until she had her first chance to serve the match out at 5-4.
"I mean, for all of one little blemish there trying to serve out the match in the first time. It was a really clean match," Barty said. "I felt like I was in control. I got the balls I wanted, and I was able to put the balls in difficult positions for Maddie."
Barty was surprised to reach her first major semifinal on clay, but her slice and net game nonetheless still works with the slow surface.
"Her game is obviously very suited for clay," Keys said.
Barty relentlessly put pressure on the American and ended points at the net, winning 11 of 12 times from inside the service line.
"It's been amazing, I've been learning every single day about clay court tennis," said the 23-year-old, who also won the Rome doubles title. "I've been enjoying it. I've been loving it."
Barty and Keys have played just twice, most recently in Fed Cup earlier this year, with the Aussie winning handily. Barty came into this Roland Garros showdown with the edge in terms of rankings, at a career-high No. 8. Still, Keys has more second-week experience at the Slams, as a 2017 US Open finalist and two-time major semifinalist.
"She was feeling very free and able to do whatever she wanted, hitting her spots. I feel like that was an aspect for today," Keys said. "And also, obviously in big moments, I don't think my serve held up. I was going to have to play extremely well, and I feel like I just didn't execute quite as well as I needed to today."
The 23-year-old Australian has had a memorable season so far, with a final run in Sydney, a quarterfinal showing in Melbourne and her fourth—and biggest—career singles title in Miami. It’s her first time inside the Top 10, but there’s little doubt she belongs there. And now she can confidently say she belongs in a Grand Slam semifinal.
She'll face 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, after the teen ousted defending champion Simona Halep just minutes before Barty clinched her win.
"It's amazing. It's amazing for WTA tennis," Barty said. "I think the way that Amanda must have played, I didn't see it today, but the way she must have played must have been incredible."