It’s hard to believe that Madison Keys is still only 24 years old. The Rock-Island-born player has been a regular on the WTA circuit since breaking through in 2012, but she hasn’t been able to live up to her early promise. Despite plenty of hype during the initial stages of her career, Keys has never previously won a clay-court title, but she’s finally broke her duck when wrapping up the Volvo Car Open in Charleston on April 7th.
Keys beat Caroline Wozniacki 7-6(5), 6-3 to secure $141,420 in prize money, as she became the 16th different winner on the WTA Tour this calendar year. She fought off two break points in the eighth game to force a tie-break, and avoid falling behind to the powerful Dane. It was a pivotal moment which helped swing the match in her favour.
She’d also previously beaten close friend Sloane Stephens in the quarter-finals of the competition, despite an error-strewn opening set.
It was her seventh visit to Charleston, and she’s always been a hugely popular figure at the tournament. The crowd got behind the right-hander throughout the final, and she admitted that it’s always been one of her favourite venues to play. Keys told reporters that it “feels like I’m at home” and spoke glowingly about the partisan support that she received from the stands.
The tournament, which is played on green clay, has previously been won by Serena Williams, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and it regularly attracts a high-quality field. It is one of the oldest events on the calendar, and prior to 2015 it was known as the Family Circle Cup. Over 90,000 tennis fans watched the tournament this year, and the locals always turn up in their droves.
It is one of a number of events throughout April which are generally regarded as a precursor to the French Open, which gets underway on May 26th. Madison Keys reached the semi-finals of the second Grand Slam of the season in 2018, but was defeated by her compatriot Sloane Stephens. It was viewed as a significant step forward for the American, who had crashed out in the first round of the competition 12 months earlier. As a result of her success in Charleston, her odds for the 2019 French Open have shortened, and she’s 22/1 in the latest tennis betting to secure her inaugural Grand Slam title at Roland Garros this year.
She cites Paris as her favourite city to visit, and her 2018 performance in the French capital was hugely encouraging. Although there is still plenty more tennis to be played ahead of the upcoming Grand Slam, she is likely to be feeling quietly confident heading into the clay-court event.
Keys has had her fair share of coaches over the years, but she’s recently been reunited with Juan Todero. She had previously worked with the Argentine five years ago, and he has been credited with helping her break into the top 40 of the WTA rankings. She recently split from Lindsay Davenport and Jon Leach, and has previously worked with both Jesse Levine and Thomas Hogstedt.
Amazingly, this was just her fourth WTA title, and her first since 2017. She’s previously been successful at Stanford, Birmingham and Eastbourne, but reaching the final of the 2017 US Open will also surely be amongst her career highlights. Remarkably, three of her four titles have arrived in tournaments held on the green clay.
It’s a step in the right direction for Madison Keys, and she’ll be keen to build upon her success in South Carolina. She spoke of her desire to “keep this up at a kind of high bar”, and she’ll be hoping to carry that momentum into the French Open and throughout the summer months.