NEW YORK, NY, USA -- 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys of the United States is back in the semifinals of the year’s final Grand Slam event following a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No.30 seed Carla Suárez Navarro of Spain on Wednesday night.
"I think that I am doing whatever I can to put myself in the position to go deeper into slams," Keys said, during her post-match press conference. "I think I'm feeling more comfortable in those big moments and like matches like tonight."
"I've gotten a lot better managing my emotions once it gets to this part and knowing that everything is going to be probably more amped up, and not shying away from those but just really being honest about it and talking about it," Keys added. "Just embracing the moment. Just trying to remind myself to actually have fun and enjoy the experience."
14th-seeded Keys had a 3-0 head-to-head record against the Spaniard coming into their quarterfinal encounter, although all three of those meetings had gone to a third and deciding set. But Keys was able to pull through in straight sets on Arthur Ashe Stadium, defeating the former World No.6 in 82 minutes.
23-year-old Keys was terrific on serve during the match, winning 80 percent of points on her first serve and fending off both of the two break points she faced. Both players won two-thirds of their net points, but the aggression of Keys won out on the day, as her 22 winners, including six aces, powered her past the crafty Spaniard.
"[Suárez Navarro] does a really good job, especially tonight, of holding the baseline and redirecting the ball," Keys stated. "So I knew that I was going to have to play really well, but also know that she's going to come up with some great shots and defend really well. So it was more just about staying calm and knowing that she was going to play well, and just waiting for my opportunities."
The American, who fell to compatriot and good friend Sloane Stephens in the 2017 US Open final, is just one of two players on tour this season to reach the quarterfinals or better at three of the four Grand Slam events, alongside Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber. Keys also reached the semifinals at Roland Garros and the quarterfinals at the Australian Open.
"Last year a lot of my matches were kind of emotional roller coasters," Keys said about her run to the 2017 championship match. "This year I feel like I have been much more solid mentally, and in tougher times keeping my cool a little bit better, and not having to have the big emotional swing to try to get back into matches."
Keys moves into the final four once more, where she will face No.20 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan, who will be contesting the first Grand Slam semifinal of her career. Osaka dispatched Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, 6-1, 6-1, earlier on Wednesday. Keys leads the head-to-head record with Osaka by 3-0.
"I think [Osaka] has obviously had a really great year," said Keys. "We have had a couple of close matches on hard court before, so I know it's going to be a tough match." One of those close matches came at the US Open two years ago, where Osaka led 5-1 in the final set before Keys rebounded to win in a deciding tiebreak.
"I think we both had some very highs and lows during that match where one was playing well, one wasn't," Keys said of their 2016 third-round encounter in New York. "One was down, one was emotionally high. That, I think, was probably the first time I had been on Ashe and had to learn how to use the crowd."
"[Osaka's] obviously playing really well to make the semifinals," Keys concluded. "I'm definitely looking forward to it. And I know a little bit more about her. I feel like she always has some pretty funny interviews, so I always look forward to seeing what she's saying in her interviews," Keys said with a smile.
Both players made it through the majority of the opening set unscathed, as they each had to fend off break points but held serve up to 4-4. The powerful serve of Keys was causing Suárez Navarro to misfire on returns, but the exceptional groundstroke angles by the Spaniard kept her toe-to-toe with last year’s finalist.
But after a routine hold by Keys for 5-4, Suárez Navarro became stuck in a challenging game on her serve. Deep groundstrokes and strong service returns brought Keys to set point, but a wily point by both at net was won by the Spaniard to reach deuce. A game point for Suárez Navarro came and went and Keys reached a second set point, which she converted with a forehand winner up the line.
Keys got on top of the newly-30-year-old Spanish veteran earlier in the second set than she had in the first, using exceptional patience before crushing a forehand at the right time to force an error and reach double break point at 3-2. Two points later, a crosscourt backhand by Keys forced an error from the Spaniard, and the American attained a crucial break lead.
After quick holds by both players, Keys stepped to the line to serve for her first-ever straight-set win over Suárez Navarro. A service winner at 30-30 brought up match point, but Keys could not convert it, double faulting to draw the game back to deuce.
Suddenly, it appeared that the match might get complicated for Keys after all, as a beautiful volley by Suárez Navarro forced a wide error and queued up a break point. But Keys saved it with a crushing forehand winner, and then clinched a second match point with a backhand winner. This time, the American closed the deal via another strong backhand, for a swift victory.