CHARLESTON, SC, USA - Reigning Volvo Car Open champion Madison Keys is gearing up to take her first steps back onto the famous Charleston green courts next week, and she’s determined to not take a moment of it for granted after spending months away from the game.  

Keys is one of the women set to headline the Credit One Bank Invitational, a non-WTA event in Charleston featuring 16 players who will compete in two teams across singles and doubles. Half of the proceeds will be donated to the Medical University of South Carolina, who will enforce and monitor health and safety protocols throughout the tournament.

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At a ‘virtual press conference’ ahead of the event, Keys admitted that she’s just happy to be back on court after the global spread of COVID-19 sent the sport into a months-long pause.  

“It's really difficult to keep practicing when you don't really have a goal in mind,” Keys said, speaking via Zoom to a group of journalists. “So being able to have some of these tournaments back on the calendar has been really great even just for my mentality, just because I know I'm working for something."  

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“I love that I not only get to work towards Charleston, but to be able to use this as momentum into getting back into matches and getting back into competing," Keys added. “I think all of us are super happy and lucky that we're going to be able to do this." 

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As captain of Team Kindness, Keys will be on opposite sides of the tennis court from fellow American player Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who leads up Team Peace. The pair will split a high-quality field of players, with Mattek-Sands getting the first pick between reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens, Victoria Azarenka, Amanda Anisimova, Monica Puig, Ajla Tomljanovic, Danielle Collins, Alison Riske, Shelby Rogers, Genie Bouchard, Jennifer Brady, Leylah Fernandez, Emma Navarro and Caroline Dolehide.

Photo by Jimmie48 Photography/WTA

“I think it's funny because I think every tennis player kind of dreams of being home, especially when we're in the middle of some of our stacked scheduling,” Mattek-Sands pointed out, joining Keys in the press conference along with Charleston tournament director Bob Moran.

“Even in the off-season, even when we’re injured, we usually have a date. We have a deadline when we’ve got to be ready for, and we can time it up. So I think it's been challenging for everyone to stay motivated... 

“I mean, I've been pretty busy at home,” she continued. “But now that I've been home for a few months, as much as I love it I'm super stoked to get back on the road.”

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At the Credit One Bank Invitational, players will call their own lines and the tournament will only use one official as a part of its health and safety protocols. Players will also be expected to handle their own towels and grab their own drinks, and the ones who are not playing will be spaced out in socially distant  “pods” in the stands around Center Court, which will be empty of fans and media. 

All of that is just fine with Keys, who opened up on how the time away from the game has given her a new perspective on the sport she loves. Removed from the week-in, week-out grind, all the American wants to do now is play some tennis again as the world settles back into its ‘new normal’.  

“Now we're all like, please put me on a center court, break point down in the third, because I would love to have that feeling again,” Keys said, laughing. 

Photo by Jimmie48 Photography/WTA

“I think we all really just take for granted how much we love competing,” she added. “And even those days where you lose, you get to go out and compete and you get to play a sport that you love, and I don't think we're ever going to forget that. 

“It was just something that we really took for granted before… I don't think any of us are ever going to complain about, you know, the stresses of playing tennis quite as much.”

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The Credit One Bank Invitational will take place June 23-28 at LTP Daniel Island, with live coverage in the US airing on Tennis Channel.