INTERVIEW: Keys speaks with Jelena Dokic

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Neither nearly triple-digit temperatures nor a highly-skilled opponent derailed Madison Keys from her Tuesday assignment. In 85 minutes, the 26-year-old American comprehensively dismantled fourth-seeded Barbora Krejcikova, 6-3, 6-2, to reach the semis at the Australian Open for the second time, seven years after she first went that far Down Under as a teenager. “I feel great,” said Keys. “I think I played a pretty solid match today, but just so happy to be back in the semifinals here for the first time in a long time.”

Controlling the tempo of just about every rally, Keys’ powerful serve and forehand made it nearly impossible for Krejcikova to deploy the wide range of spins and speeds that took her to the title at Roland Garros last year. As the saying goes, everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face.

From the start, Keys conducted herself with exceptional snap, crackle, and pop. The Keys service motion has long been one of the most elegant in the game, a sculpted, pruned delivery that can find any corner. Today, Keys hit 11 aces, one double-fault and saved seven of eight break points.

Better yet, Keys’ movement and shot selection was first-rate. Frequently, she followed up the openings created by her serve to seize control of the real estate of the court and either push Krejcikova into a corner or hit a winner. The same held true when Keys returned serve, a relentless but judicious application of pressure that repeatedly pinned Krejcikova. Said Keys, “Really just trying to be a lot more measured and just playing within myself a little bit more, not necessarily trying to hit a winner on that ball, just constantly trying to set the point up to get to the net to try to finish off on even the next ball. If it happens to be a winner, then it happens to be a winner.”

Keys has won 11 of 12 matches to begin the 2022 season, including her last 10.

Keys has won 11 of 12 matches to begin the 2022 season, including her last 10.

Weather also played a major role. Amid temperatures that approached 100 degrees, an enervated Krejcikova iced herself on changeovers, occupied the shade as long as possible prior to serving, and at the end of the first set requested a trainer visit. Time and time again, Krejcikova’s lower body did not cooperate, leading to sporadic serving and many a wristy flick that left her shots far less crisp than usual. “I have been struggling with something,” said Krejcikova. “Yes, it was happening and I didn't feel good. I just don't want to talk about it because I think Madison, she really deserves the win and she really deserves to get the credit. That's how it is.”

Meanwhile, Keys was thoroughly comfortable, a tribute to the many summer hours she’s spent practicing at her home in the off-the-charts heat and humidity of Orlando, Fla. “Honestly, I love it here, said Keys. “I also really love playing in the heat, being from Florida. I always love coming here.”

The contrast between the two was most telling in the sixth game of the match. Serving at 2-3, Krejcikova fought off four break points, but finally withered on the fifth. That snapped it all open for Keys, who swiftly took a commanding 6-3, 3-0 lead.

Keys’ only hiccup came when she served at 3-0 in the second set, her sole double-fault of the match coming in that game at 30-40. And when Krejcikova held to make it 3-2, the energy pattern altered subtly. It’s an intriguing aspect of the tennis scoring system that while momentum works in your favor if you break serve at 2-all, to be up 3-0 and drop the next two games holds the potential to shift the emotional texture in the other direction. That can be particularly true for a player as historically streaky as Keys. But not today. Keys held convincingly at 30. Serving at 2-4, 30-15, Krejcikova’s weariness continued, as she netted drives on each of the next three points. Once again with a double-break lead, Keys closed it out on her first match point.

Last year, Keys missed the Australian Open due to a positive COVID test, a rough start to a frustrating 2021 that saw her win only 11 matches—a tally she’s already equaled in ‘22 with today’s victory. Currently ranked No. 51 in the world, if Keys continues to play as well as she has in Melbourne, she could well be one of the year’s great comeback stories.