STANFORD, CA, USA - In just her second tournament since undergoing arthroscopic wrist surgery in May, Madison Keys found her form and blasted her way to her first title of the 2017 season and the first hard court title of her career at the Bank of the West Classic.
En route to her third career title and first on American soil, Keys rallied from a set and a break down in her opening match against qualifier Caroline Dolehide and then never looked back. The No.4 seed beat Lesia Tsurenko in the quarterfinals before stunning top seed and Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza in the semifinals and then edging her US Fed Cup teammate CoCo Vandeweghe 7-6(4), 6-4 in the final.
The Stanford title is Keys' first since the Aegon Classic in Birmingham last summer and comes in the midst of an injury-marred season. After qualifying for her first BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global last fall, Keys underwent surgery on her left wrist and returned to the tour at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March. Stanford was just the second tournament at which she won back-to-back matches, but the 22-year-old rediscovered her game to win her third Premier title. WTA Insider caught up with her afterwards.
WTA Insider: The last time we sat down and had a heart to heart, there was a lot going on. It was at Wimbledon before the tournament started and you talked about the wrist surgery you had. Two tournaments back and you're a champion.
Keys: It's been a real up and down kind of year. Obviously Indian Wells was great and then it seemed like I've been struggling since. To finally go back, have a surgeon look at my wrist and say, 'Wow, I don't know how you're playing tennis!' Finally, I feel like I'm on a good path and everything is coming together. It's absolutely amazing.
WTA Insider: You had such a 10-day rush to get ready for Wimbledon and you finally had a training block after Wimbledon. How big was that for you?
Keys: I almost used the end of Wimbledon as a part of my training block. So before mixed doubles I was in the gym lifting and all of that. Sorry Jack [Sock, her mixed doubles partner], I wasn't 100% ready on the court physically! It was just so good to finally just have time and not be rushed and feel like I was healthy enough that I could go and push myself every single day and finally have two and a half solid weeks on the court and in the gym. I think that really showed here.
WTA Insider: Before the tournament you said you needed matches. At what point did that turn? Seeing how you were playing and feeling throughout the week, when did you think you might have a shot at the title?
Keys: To be honest, I think part of the reason I was so mentally great on the court this week was because I was so focused on playing good points. That's all I needed, to play good points, play smart, not get ahead of myself, not even think about the title. That's why I stayed so composed the whole time. It's [the] icing on the cake that I get to go home with the trophy.
WTA Insider: We've talked in the past, especially after you made the final in Rome, that it was odd that you had won on grass, made a Premier final on clay, and hadn't broken through on hard court yet.
Keys: At that time I hadn't even finaled in Montreal yet. It was two finals on clay, which... everyone was confused! Grass was a little more like it makes sense. This is her surface. But when I finaled in Rome everyone was like: 'What?' It just feels so good to not just have a hard court title but a title at home, in front of a home crowd, and to get to play a fellow American and friend.
Those moments at the end of the match... it's really special. I think it's important that people see that we can play each other and we can be competitive - we had great high-quality tennis today - and then three minutes after we can still be friends, we still like each other. I think not only was this match competitive and high quality and all that, but you also see that it is possible for people to like each other after a match.
WTA Insider: It was such a high-quality final. You were both producing and absorbing so much power. Do you notice that it's a good match while you're playing it?
Keys: I think you notice their play. I knew CoCo was playing really well so any time I was down a break point or it was 30-all, I was like focus, you need to be in this because any second it could switch. I think at the 4-4 game in the second when I had two break points and she hit two amazing shots to get to deuce and I finally got that third break point, in my head I thought you have to get it here. You have to. As soon as I did I was like, great! Now you gotta serve it out. So I definitely knew she was playing well and you just have to keep trying to match her and do a little bit better. It's really a matter of a few points here and there.
WTA Insider: What does this mean for you? The title comes so quickly after being down in the dumps a few months ago to now. I know you've said it's not about rankings going forward - it's been about finding your game again. But it seems like it was 'Vintage Madison' this week. Does this change anything for you?
Keys: I don't think it changes anything in my mentality. I'm still just trying to get all of that rhythm back. Yes, this is obviously a huge stepping stone in the right direction but it also shows how hard I worked to get here. For me it's really helped that I know that all the little things I was doing when things were going so horribly and I wasn't feeling great, I know this helped it. This is a part of it.
But more than anything this has been such a massive learning experience for me. Last year I was so stressed trying to get to Singapore. It was all I could think about. And it really took a lot of the fun out of it. So as proud as I am of myself, putting all that pressure on myself and still making it to Singapore with one good wrist, I'm finally so much happier this year and I think it's helping me on the court a lot.
WTA Insider: Have the people around you been able to make that adjustment alongside you in terms of your expectations? Sometimes when people get caught up in the success side of things, the focus remains on success. So how has your support network adjusted with you this season?
Keys: I will say that is one of Lindsay's [Davenport, her coach] massive strengths. From the start she was saying: 'I just want to see you having fun out there again and not looking like you're ready to pull your hair out.' My mom has been saying that to me forever: 'Just look like you're having fun. Just for me. Just pretend to smile at some point.' So I think it's been really great, but I've also had a lot of great people around me.
There have been moments when I definitely thought, maybe it's over. Maybe I'll never win another match again. Because I'm not dramatic. They've just said it's going to happen. If you try and force it, it's that much harder. Take a deep breath -- that's been Lindsay's thing. You cannot force it. You just have to let it happen.
Even the first match in the first set, I was trying to force it again and play amazing tennis, instead of how can I win this point and how can I win the next one? I finally did that when I was a set and a break down, and from there everything has been a bit more clear.
WTA Insider: Lindsay knows this court and the conditions here very well. It sounds like she was preaching this week to take what the court gives you. Talk about playing this tournament under these conditions of a quick court, a light ball, the sun, the heat, all of that.
Keys: It's been a learning experience for me. Someitmes you can't do certain things on a court this fast, especially when you have a ball like Garbiñe's, or CoCo's, or even Caroline Dolehide's in the first round, it's coming hard, it's coming fast. You can't change direction as easily on a really fast court because it's going to skid through the court.
Yesterday when I got broken in the first game, as soon as we switched sides and I saw Garbiñe struggling with the sun as well I was like: 'Thank God!' I'm not crazy. It's so hard to see from that side! So little things like that. Lindsay just kept saying just hang in there, play smart, if you don't have it, don't go for it. Just keep getting it back deep so they can't start dictating the point and being the aggressor, and once you have it, go for it and commit and trust that you got it.
WTA Insider: This idea of people doubting you a little bit when you were struggling, having to deal with that. Now everyone's coming around and saying Madison's great again. How do you deal with that rollercoaster of adulation and people being quick to write you off?
Keys: Using the block button a lot lately! It gives you tough skin because people are insane. People were like Oh my God you lost in the second round of Wimbledon! I was like I know, right? I've been playing for seven whole days. Of course it's not perfect.
I've had so much amazing support from certain people who just kept saying it's going to happen. Don't stress. It's fine. They've said even if it doesn't happen, we still love you. We don't care if you don't win another tennis game again because we love you as a person. Of course we want you to win another tennis match because you want to win, but it's been really amazing to see that unwavering support from certain people.
I've had fans tweet me after horrendous matches. They're like don't worry, we're still for you, we still support you. So it's amazing to not only have my support system but to have fans out there who are saying don't stress.
[Joking to WTA Insider] Everyone else, your opinion is unwelcome and unwanted! You don't even have to tweet me because I'm just going to block you and I'll probably report you!
Listen to the full interview on the WTA Insider Podcast: