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Madison Keys in fine form as she prepares to face Heather Watson in the semifinals of the Aegon International

Hannah Wilks in News 19 Jun 2014
Madison Keys in action against Lauren Davis (Photo by Harry Engels/Getty Images)

Rising star Madison Keys is into her third semifinal of 2014 at the Aegon International in Eastbourne. With a big game perfectly suited for grass and a genuine relish for playing on the surface, could Keys win her first career title at Devonshire Park this weekend?

‘It [grass] is like way up here,’ Keys says, holding her hand above her head to mime how much she enjoys playing on the turf. ‘Everything else is, like, down here.’ And her hand disappears below the level of the table.

Just 19 and in the midst of her second full year on the WTA Tour, 47-ranked Keys hasn’t yet enjoyed the big breakthrough at Grand Slam level which we have seen from some up-and-coming players – especially at the French Open, where Simona Halep, Eugenie Bouchard, Garbine Muguruza and Ajla Tomljanovic lit up the tournament. 

‘I think it was a huge eye-opener for everyone,’ Keys, who lost to Sara Errani in three sets in the first round, commented. ‘There is this new generation coming up and there is a lot of really good girls right now. No matter who you’re drawing in tournaments, there is always an opportunity.’

That is particularly the case for a player blessed with the young American’s huge serve and ferocious groundstrokes, as she showed when she reached the third round of Wimbledon in 2013. They have been on fine form in Eastbourne this week, as Keys backed up her 6-3, 6-3 defeat of world no. 7 Jelena Jankovic in the first round by knocking out defending champion Elena Vesnina in two tight sets and beating compatriot Lauren Davis – not to mention the imminent rain – 6-2, 6-1 to reach the semifinals.

When her game works, it’s a sight to behold; when it doesn’t – for example during her 2-6, 1-6 to world no. 108 Timea Babos in the second round of Birmingham last week – you want to avert your eyes. It makes one wonder how much control Keys feels like she has over her game and her talent.

Trying to find a diplomatic way to ask the question is quite difficult, however. ‘Madison, you’re playing so well here and then sometimes you have days when -’ ‘I suck? Is that what you’re trying to say?’ she chimes in helpfully.

‘There are definitely days when I feel like it’s just the entire universe is against me and doesn’t want me to win. But I’m getting better, and there are not really as many matches where I walk off the court and think, I have no idea what just happened.

‘But, yeah, there are definitely still days where I go out and I feel like I can’t hit the ball in the stadium. Hopefully that’s not tomorrow.’

Keys faces British wildcard Heather Watson for a place in her first final, after world no. 70 Watson progressed to the semifinals via walkover when Petra Kvitova withdrew due to a hamstring injury. They have played once before, at Wimbledon 12 months ago, when Keys prevailed 6-3, 7-5 – a good rehearsal for Keys, not just in terms of Watson’s game, but for dealing with a crowd pulling as vociferously as a British crowd ever pulls for your opponent.

‘Even when I was walking back from here today, someone goes, “Hey, good job. I hope you lose tomorrow”,’ Keys recounted. ‘I was like, “Thank you!”’

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Madison Keys in fine form as she prepares to face Heather Watson in the semifinals of the Aegon International

Rising star Keys targeting her first WTA final in Eastbourne

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