WIMBLEDON, England -- As the No.25 seed, Madison Keys is the lowest-ranked player among the four remaining players in the bottom half of the draw. And yet, she’s won nine straight matches on grass, going back to last month’s title run at Eastbourne.
Keys was down to 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva a set and 4-1 when she decided to start moving forward.
“That was a change of game plan,” Keys said afterward. “I just figured I’d start charging the net and see what happened. It’s a bit of a reminder to me. I kind of always forget I’m not bad at the net, and I should probably get up there more often.
"Honestly, I thought just try to throw her off her game a little bit, try to get up to the net. Then it started working, so I figured I’d just keep doing it.”
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Keys, who won 25 of 43 net points against Andreeva, will have to keep that up if she wants to advance to her first Wimbledon semifinal.
Here’s a look at Wednesday’s two cracking quarterfinal matches from the bottom half of the draw:
No.2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No.25 Madison Keys
Sabalenka was grinding along at 4-all in her fourth-round match with No.21 Ekaterina Alexandrova when she all but disappeared, dropping the last eight games.
The final was 6-4, 6-0, and when it was over, Sabalenka let out a big breath. Blowing kisses to the crowd, the World No.2 seemed a tad subdued, perhaps already considering the vast task ahead. She’s 16-1 this year in Grand Slams, better than her best previous total (15 in 2021) in a calendar year. But despite making the semifinals of the last three Slams, she's lost from a break up in the final set in two of them. The reigning Australian Open champion knows there's still work to be done.
The last time Keys found herself in a Wimbledon quarterfinal was eight years ago when she was only 20. Older and considerably wiser at 28, she was a 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 winner over qualifier Andreeva. It was the ninth major quarterfinal of Keys’ career.
Keys and Sabalenka have split their two previous matches, with Sabalenka winning in the 2018 Cincinnati quarterfinals in straight sets and Keys prevailing in three sets two years ago in Berlin’s Round of 16.
“She’s obviously playing really well this year,” Keys said of Sabalenka. “Big hitter. Big server. Very confident.”
Sabalenka had seven aces against Alexandrova and leads all players, including Rybakina, with 33.
Keys has been pretty big herself, winning 76 percent of her first serves; Sabalenka is also at 76. Against Andreeva, Keys had 39 winners and 40 unforced errors.
“She’s a very aggressive player,” Sabalenka said of Keys. “Her forehand can be really annoying. She’s hitting some really big shots from there, serving really well, playing a pretty fast game. She’s a really tough opponent to play against. I know it’s going to be a great battle.”
No.3 Elena Rybakina vs. No.6 Ons Jabeur
Cinematic sequels are all the rage these days, so why not reprise the 2022 Wimbledon final?
Rybakina and Jabeur have split four previous matches but the last one was the most significant. Twelve months ago on Centre Court, Rybakina came back to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to collect her first major.
In retrospect, two things about that match stand out for Jabeur.
“The fact that I was really exhausted emotionally,” Jabeur told reporters. “I wanted to keep pushing, but I felt a little bit empty. Second thing, maybe what my coach [Issam Jellali] kept telling me, to stick more to the plan, to do certain things, even though I was thinking something else in that match.
“My priority tomorrow is really to stick 100 percent to the plan that my coach will give me and try to even do things that I might not like on the court, play more freely, just think about each point and not the results.”
To get here, Jabeur put together a comprehensive 6-0, 6-3 victory over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Rybakina advanced when No.13 Beatriz Haddad Maia abruptly retired with a back injury trailing 4-1.
Rybakina has now won 14 of her first 15 matches at the All England Club, something only matched by Billie Jean King and Maria Sharapova. Only Iga Swiatek (41) and Aryna Sabalenka (38) have won more matches than Rybakina’s 35.
Through four matches, Rybakina has now won 32 of 33 service games, facing just seven break points.
Jabeur's inspired run to the Wimbledon final last year was heavily featured in Season 1 of Netflix's "Break Point". But how much does she think about that heartbreaking loss?
“I think the first one or two weeks I thought about it a lot,” she said. “It was very painful. The good thing about it is I know I gave it everything. I’m someone that believes that it wasn’t meant to be, so I cannot force it more than it should be.
“I’m glad that I have this belief. I believe in destiny. It wasn’t supposed to be that year. Maybe greater things are coming after that final.”