Following straight-set losses in the Australian Open semifinals, Iga Swiatek and Madison Keys could only tip their caps to their opponents. It wasn't the result either wanted, but both leave Melbourne with perspective after strong runs at the first major of the season.
Madison Keys breaks down Barty
Keys has played Ashleigh Barty before. But Keys said there was no doubt in her mind the World No.1 has hit a different level after her 6-1, 6-3 masterclass to end the American's resurgent run at Melbourne Park.
"She's serving incredibly well, so you don't get any free points on that," Keys said. "Her slice is coming in so much lower and deeper than it was in the past so it's hard to do anything on that. Then you try to play to her forehand and she can open you up there.
"She seems very focused, but she's playing very within herself, and it just seems like everything is really working for her right now without playing unbelievable tennis for her. I think the rest of us are watching it thinking, wow, this is incredible, but when you watch her, she seems completely in control of all of it."
A memorable run Down Under 🤝@Madison_Keys | #AusOpenpic.twitter.com/8CRd5MR2Sv— wta (@WTA) January 27, 2022
It took a supreme performance from Barty to snap Keys' career-best 10-match winning streak, which began with her title run in Adelaide two weeks ago. Coming off a frustrating 2021 campaign in which she won only 11 matches, Keys has already matched that total in January. She started the season outside the Top 80, and the former No.7 will return to the Top 30 on Monday.
"Honestly, I think the biggest thing that I take from the summer is just getting a lot of matches in," Keys said. "It's been a really long time since I have been able to start off the year on such a strong foot and have all of these matches and to have all that confidence going into the year.
"I don't think I have ever had that, so that's a great feeling. It's something that's really great to build off of. Just having all of that experience on the court already this year for tough moments down the road is going to be really beneficial."
Keys' success in Australia was a resounding win for her healthier perspective on her tennis and career. Now healthy, happy, and playing without the pressure of points, Keys can swing big, swing freely and wreak havoc on her own terms.
"I think that the biggest thing that I have learned from this trip is that enjoying myself on a tennis court is absolutely vitally important for me," she said. "At the end of the day I have to enjoy what I'm doing, and I have to figure out how to not put all of that pressure on myself so that I can enjoy tennis, because when I can enjoy tennis I'm capable of playing at a much higher level than what was happening last year.
"Physically I feel really good after playing a lot of matches. I still am fighting to get back to the level that I think that I was obviously on the tennis court ranking-wise, but mentally I feel like I'm in a really good position and feeling fresh."
Iga Swiatek learning quickly
The 20-year-old Polish star knows what it's like to feel invincible on the tennis court. That's why she recognized it right away as a zoning Collins played a pitch-perfect match to win 6-4, 6-1.
"I tried to find solutions, but I can assume what feelings she had today on court, because I do have that feeling sometimes," Swiatek said. "It's kind of hard to stop an opponent when they are playing like that.
"I wasn't thinking like that on the court, but after, I'm not even feeling any regrets because I did the best I could today."
🧊 Ice cool from @iga_swiatek 💪— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 27, 2022
🎥: @wwos • @espn • @eurosport • @wowowtennis#AusOpen • #AO2022 pic.twitter.com/Mhg4whH2x4
Like Keys, Swiatek leaves Australia far more dangerous than when she arrived. Her bonafides are well-proven on clay, but Swiatek believes she still has plenty of improvements to make to get her game where she wants on hard court. That's a scary thought for a player who just made the Australian Open semifinal.
To make her first hard-court semifinal at a Slam, Swiatek notched back-to-back wins from a set down for the first time in her career, doing so to defeat Sorana Cirstea in the fourth round and Kaia Kanepi in the quarterfinals. On Monday she will return to the Top 5, at No.4.
"[I learned that] I don't have to play perfect tennis to win matches, even on hard court," Swiatek said. "That's my best result on hard court besides winning Adelaide. That's positive, because I always wanted to improve on hard court. I like the fact that I won against Sorana and Kaia, mentally and physically, and I gave my heart on court. So that's great. I'm pretty happy that I'm able to also play aggressive and be ready on fast surfaces."
Swiatek leaves Australia with an 8-2 record to start the season. Her two losses came to the two women who will face off Saturday for the Australian Open title, Ashleigh Barty and Danielle Collins. Having had a close-up look at each of their games, Swiatek was asked to put on her analyst hat.
"It's hard to predict anything, because on one hand, Ash is playing differently," Swiatek said. "She's playing different than any other girl, and she can really reset the rally even when someone is really playing fast.
"She's No.1, so I think it's a bigger possibility that she's gonna find a solution for Danielle's game than me.
"I'm just curious how it's gonna look like in the final, and I'm gonna for sure be watching and learning."