CHARLESTON, SC, USA - It's been a rocky road for Madison Keys on clay, but after winning her first clay title at the 2019 Volvo Car Open and earning her first wins over Caroline Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens, the 24-year-old American might finally be willing to change her tune.
Keys came into Charleston coming off two tough three-set losses at the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open, where she saw leads evaporate in losses to Mona Barthel and Sam Stosur. After reuniting with her former coach Juan Todero and putting in a hard training block after Miami, Keys blasted her way through disparate conditions in Charleston to make her third clay final and walk away with her first trophy since 2017 Stanford.
"I think what matters more is after having a couple of rough weeks and feeling like I was at a very low point, being able to bounce back and get through that first round where things got a little dicey," Keys said on the WTA Insider Podcast. "Being able to get past that, see the positives, just work on the negatives, not dwell on them, and then slowly build more and more confidence each round means the most."
Keys has now won titles on all three surfaces, having kicked off her career with two grass titles in Eastbourne and Birmingham, winning on Stanford's quick hardcourts, and now on clay. While it may not be a surprising result for many given Keys' past success on clay - 2015 Charleston finalist, 2016 Rome finalist, 2018 Roland Garros semifinalist - Keys still can't help but laugh at the idea that she is a clay-court stalwart.
"I feel like because it was such a rocky start for me all of those years ago, I've held a little bit of a grudge. I guess now, I kind of have to let that go. It's what, third final on clay, semifinals Roland Garros, I feel like it have to let it go.
"Maybe I'm a clay court specialist now!"
Hear Keys' full interview, as well as a chat with her coach Juan Todero, on the newest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast below:
WTA Insider: An incredible week for you. You beat three Grand Slam champions, you defeated Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki for the first time, and I know you love the city of Charleston and you finally won this tournament. What matters to you the most?
Keys: I think what matters more is after having a couple of rough weeks and feeling like I was at a very low point, being able to bounce back and get through that first round where things got a little dicey. Being able to get past that, see the positives, just work on the negatives, not dwell on them, and then slowly build more and more confidence each round means the most.
WTA Insider: When we spoke earlier in the season, you said you thought you were healthy again, you could train hard, and you were looking for matches. A few tournaments later, you're a champion. That must be satisfying, but the process of getting there isn't that easy.
Keys: No. The process of getting there is not that easy. It's been tough. I've had really great moments in the last couple of years, and then something usually stops it. And then I kind of lose my momentum. To be able to have a really solid week and a half before this tournament and then even the first couple of days here, being able to just put a lot of work in and keep my body healthy and put the hours in on court and think about the right things on court were really important aspects of being able to lift the trophy at the end of the week.
WTA Insider: Your coach gave a lot of credit to strength and conditioning coach Rodney Marshall for getting your body where it needs to be on this surface. How important was that for you this week?
Keys: That is such an important part of not only tennis but clay court tennis. Not once did I feel like I had to bail out of a point because I was tired or my legs were dead. I felt great all week, and even now - please don't make me go play another match - but if I had to I probably could. So having that confidence in your body and knowing that it's going to hold up is one less thing that you're thinking about. So that's a super important part and I'm really really happy that my body not only held up but it did as well as it did.
WTA Insider: Earlier this week I told you that the WTA Insider Clay Court Power Index, which is an empirical calculation based on your clay results over the last few seasons, put you at No.10. After this win you will move up to No.6 on the Power Rankings.
Talk about your journey on this surface and why, despite your general success, it's hard for you to believe you can win big titles on it.
Keys: I feel like because it was such a rocky start for me all of those years ago, I've held a little bit of a grudge. I guess now, I kind of have to let that go. It's what, third final on clay, semifinals Roland Garros, I feel like it's time to let it go. Maybe I'm a clay court specialists now!
WTA Insider: You're definitely a green court specialist. You've now won all the WTA Premier events played on a green surface - Eastbourne, Birmingham, Charleston.
Keys: Wow. That's very specific. We should pick more green courts, whether they're grass or clay, I don't care but they should be green.
WTA Insider: We're in the midst of a season with unprecedented parity. 16 different champions in 16 different events. Does that change the tenor of the season?
Keys: I think that was a big thing for me even at the beginning of the week. Everyone is good. Everyone is playing well. Everyone is playing well at certain times of the year to win titles. Why not me? And I think it's the beauty of the WTA right now is that, yes there's been a bunch of different winners but not one has been like, 'Oh it's shocking'. Everyone's like, well yeah, she's really good, duh. Like how did you not think that was going to happen?
So the fact that there's been that many just shows how great women's tennis is right now. It is definitely a great moment to be able to try to put together some matches and get a win and know that even if you have a not great week or not great two weeks, you can still come back and if you find your game, you can be holding the Charleston trophy.
WTA Insider: We've seen parity in the past. Does it feel particularly different this year?
Keys: I think there's always been somewhat of that feeling. I think this year is an extreme of that obviously. But I think right now, my personal mentality to it is a lot different. Knowing that if I can stay confident and try to play the right way even if it's not perfect, week in and week out, things will pay off.
So I think my own mentality to it all has changed, versus before I kind of felt like I had to be perfect and if I wasn't perfect it wasn't going to happen. So proving to myself that it doesn't have to be perfect. You can have some rough moments. And you can even gut out some matches that you probably shouldn't gut out, and then figure it out, turn it around and then play really good tennis at the end of the week.
WTA Insider: The first round against Tatjana Maria looked like it might end up how your last two matches in Miami and Indian Wells went, in a tough three-set loss after having a lead.
Keys: I think the big changing point for me was being down a break in the third and my mentality completely changing and thinking the way that I'm playing right now, I'm not going to win. So I might as well go for it. I might as well try to play the way that I actually want to play and give myself the opportunity to win this match. And then as soon as that's how I thought, things started going in a better direction.
So from that moment on, it's been a little bit of a fight with myself to keep thinking about the right things try to do the right things and the more that I've done them the less that I've had the fight with myself.
WTA Insider: After the Maria match, was there another match where that really solidified for you?
Keys: I think it was definitely more comfortable, but there were still moments where I had to actively think about it, even in the first set today. I was making some mistakes where I felt like I wasn't actually even swinging at the ball. All of a sudden the ball was gone.
So even those little moments it was OK, that's not the right mentality. That's not how I want to play. Go back to that. And then in the second set, I think even though I was missing some balls I was more ok with it because it was the right way. And I knew if I kept it up but I just made minor tweaks, eventually those would start going in and luckily they did.
WTA Insider: Your coach was just saying that, that he's more about intention, and that if you're playing with the right intention, he's happy.
Keys: 100 percent. And he is drilled into my head the last two weeks. And honestly, if I miss a ball or I lose a point but I did everything with the right intention and I just didn't execute, he has no problem.
If I win a point and I had the wrong mentality and the wrong intention, he is not happy. So he's been really great at making me play how I want to play.