WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen | Madison Keys discusses the hard work and improvements that helped her become the first American woman to make the Top 10 since 1999.
WTA Staff

Madison Keys single-handedly ended two surprising droughts during a water-logged week in Birmingham, England. By winning the Aegon Classic on Sunday with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Barbora Strycova, the 21-year-old became the first American woman in 17 years to make her Top 10 debut, and ended her own two-year title drought dating back to 2014 (Eastbourne).

The last American woman to make her Top 10 debut? Serena Williams in 1999.

WTA Insider caught up with Keys after her milestone week in Birmingham.

WTA Insider: Congratulations on the title at the Aegon Classic. How do you feel?
Keys: I feel great. I think it's definitely the best outcome I could have had and really happy I was able to get this many matches on grass leading into Wimbledon.

WTA Insider: It wasn't an easy week in Birmingham with the weather. You seemed to handle all of it well. You didn't get distracted or anything. Do you agree?
Keys: Yeah, I do. I was pretty lucky with how my matches seemed to go. I don't think I had any rain delays once the match started and never had to play two matches in one day so I  was pretty lucky. But there were definitely was times I didn't think the tournament would get to the final.

WTA Insider: You played incredibly well in the first set. The second set Barbora came back and started throwing more variety at you. You had to save break points. In the past, that's a set you lose. That wasn't the case today.
Keys: Yeah, I was definitely expecting her level to raise. I think as well as I played in the first set, I don't think she played her best, so definitely was expecting it. There were a couple of break points that I had where she just came up with a serve or a shot that was too good. That was a little bit frustrating. But I was really happy that I was able to figure my way out of some really tough service games where I was down a break point and things weren't going as easily as they were in the first set.

But I agree, I think it was was a set that in the past I definitely could have lost and it could have changed the match. So really happy with the personal growth I feel that I've had.

WTA Insider: Talk about dealing with adversity in matches. Do you feel like you're not panicking as much in those moments?
Keys: I think not panicking is a huge aspect of it. A sense of calm that no matter what happens you're always in a match, even you can be down 5-0 in the second set and you can come back and win. Knowing that has really kind of helped me calm down and really help me take each game point-by-point, and not thinking oh I'm down 0-40 I have to win three points.

I feel like sometimes I would have the tendency to try and win three points in one. So I'd try and hit harder, hit an ace, just to get back to even as quick as possible. So I think that sense of calm has really helped me and really helped my game.

WTA Insider: You've talked about wanting to improve your consistency. You've now made the final in Rome, a good run at the French Open, and now the title. Is it just all coming together, or that you're healthy? Talk about the last month, month and a half or so.
Keys: I just feel really good. I feel like my team has come together and I've had a lot of great support.

But I also feel like it's just all slowly coming into my game. I feel like for me I almost have too many options sometimes where I know I can get away with hitting a winner 10 feet behind the baseline and it might go in three out of 10 times, but having that option makes me think about it. So I think just sticking to basics has really helped me. It's been a lot of hard work but I think the practices that I had with a really solid team has really helped me in matches.

WTA Insider: You're into the Top 10. Has it sunk in yet that you're one of the 10 best players in the world right now?
Keys: That's crazy! No, it hasn't sunken in. A lot of my family members will keep calling me and saying "Hi, Top 10 player!" It's definitely not something that's sunken in yet. It's something I'm going to get used to and I'm really looking forward to it.

WTA Insider: You're the first in this century from America to make her Top 10 debut.
Keys: That's craziness. I feel like there's been so many great American tennis players in the last 10-15 years that have been probably been really really close to that. But it's definitely a huge honor that I was the first one.

WTA Insider: How did you find out you had a shot to break into the Top 10 last week?
Keys: The WTA tagged me in a tweet about it the morning of the semifinals match. It showed up on my phone. I quickly x-ed out and was like 'You didn't read that. No. Don't think about it.' So that's kind of how I find out but once I was on the court it wasn't even on my mind.

WTA Insider: You must be pretty pleased about being able to stay focused and not let that distract you.
Keys: It was more of a thought in the morning when I saw it. I was like 'Oh my gosh, that's huge.' Then when I was on the court I obviously had a slow start and once that happened it wasn't even in my brain anymore. You should try to win some points.

WTA Insider: You've had a steady rise through the rankings. Your year-end ranking has improved year over year. But when we spoke at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai last year you seemed pretty down about yourself and your season.
Keys: I definitely was feeling a bit down at the end of the season. Part of it was it was a really long season for me. It was the longest season I had ever had. But I think now I've just got so much better at not even listening to the outside opinions that it doesn't affect me anymore. I think I used to be really concerned with what other people were thinking or how things were coming across, and people don't always have all the information. So listening to anyone who was outside my small support group was harming me. I think I got a lot better at that.

Having a really tough off-season and start of the year has really made me appreciate playing tennis and being healthy and being able to just go out and compete at the highest level just knowing that I had all of the practice and all of the work put in.

WTA Insider: Let's talk about the work you have put in. There's a lot that goes on outside of the limelight that we don't get to see. Can you key in on a moment during those closed door training sessions that helped you unlocked things this year?
Keys: I think a big thing working with [trainer] Scott Byrnes is he's helped me get so much stronger and that's been such a huge factor for me. Being stronger means I'm able to last a little bit longer and makes me feel like I put all this work in off of the court, so I know when I'm on the court I know that I'm physically ready to be out there for as long as it needs to take.

Obviously we work on different things for different seasons. Before the red clay season we worked a lot on the aerobics. Before grass season stated we were working more on power and strength because it's a much bigger first strike game. So all those little things have helped me so much. I've been really lucky to have an amazing trainer.

Read more about Keys' trainer Scott Byrnes in our Coach's Corner, and listen to more from Keys in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast: