MELBOURNE, Australia - No.17 seed Madison Keys kept up her glittering form at the Australian Open, upsetting No.8 seed Caroline Garcia, 6-3, 6-2, to reach her second quarterfinal Down Under.
"I’m really excited," Keys told former WTA pro Sam Smith during her on-court interview. "I think I’m playing well, especially in tight moments I'm handling my emotions well. I’m really happy to be in the quarterfinals."
Garcia enjoyed a strong fall season with title runs at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and China Open - ultimately reaching the semifinals in her debut at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global - and looked to start strong with an opening service break with points to take a 2-0 lead.
The American steadied quickly and wrested the momentum after breaking back, winning 10 of the next 11 games to find herself a set and 4-0 ahead. Garcia made a minor rally but Keys proved too strong in the end, serving out the win in 68 minutes.
"I don't even think it's really improvement, but I was just playing really smart," she explained in her post-match press conference. "I wasn't going for unbelievable shots and things like that. I just was waiting for the right ball. Then trusting that I was going to make the right decision when I finally had the opportunity to go for it."
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Keys made her major breakthrough in Melbourne back in 2015, pushing eventual champion Serena Williams to a tense second set tie-break in her first Grand Slam semifinal, but a wrist surgery forced her to miss last year's Australian Open and kept her from playing her best tennis until last summer. Hitting her stride during the North American summer hardcourt swing, she won the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford and stormed into her maiden US Open final to return to the game's Top 20.
"It definitely made me realize how much I love it and how much pressure I put on myself," she said of the time off. "Missing this last year, I feel like I’m putting no pressure on myself, just happy to be here, not at home in a cast."
Playing pressure-free tennis to open play on Rod Laver Arena, the 22-year-old struck a whopping nine aces, 32 winners to just 17 unforced errors, and won 78% of her first serve points.
Awaiting the American in the quarterfinals will be 2016 champion Angelique Kerber, who outlasted an inspired Hsieh Su-Wei in three sets.
"I think she's always tough to play," she said of Kerber. "She obviously is a great tennis player. She's been No.1 in the world and won slams. I think she has an ability to cover the court and anticipate like really no one else does, so for me it's having to play aggressive but also consistently aggressive, because I know she's going to make three more balls than other girls may be able to get to.
"So it's not feeling rushed and that I have to go for something crazy big on the first one and just really work the point."