Madison Keys keeps calm, carries on to the Wimbledon quarterfinals

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Madison Keys was one point away from trailing 6-3, 5-1 in her fourth round match against Mirra Andreeva on Monday. Her Wimbledon quarterfinal hopes looked all but dashed and it appeared she would be the next to fall to the 16-year-old prodigy.

But Keys had other plans.

Her fiancé, and current unofficial coach, Bjorn Fratangelo, also a professional tennis player, reminded her from his seat in the player box that she was only down a break, even if the deficit felt larger. He encouraged her to just keep putting the pressure on Andreeva. Keys took his message to heart.

And while many watching might have already written her off, she clawed her way back, fighting point-by-point to force a tiebreak and then a decider. In the end, relying on her experience and calm under pressure, she won the match, 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2 and advanced to the quarterfinals at the All England Club for the first time since 2015.

“I knew if I could just stay in the match, then hopefully my many, many, many more years on tour would kick in,” Keys, 28, said on court after the victory.

Playing in her ninth Wimbledon main draw, those years, and all the lessons learned along the way, did just that. Keys changed her game plan and dug deep into her arsenal. She started coming to the net — ultimately winning 25 of 43 net points — and did whatever she could to throw Andreeva off. A switched-hand winner in the second set immediately went viral.

Andreeva, playing in only her second major, grew increasingly frustrated as Keys’ level continued to rise. She threw her racket after losing the second-set tiebreak, earning a warning from the chair umpire, and then was given a controversial point penalty at match point for repeating the offense. Through it all, Keys remained quiet and focused, recognizing she had something her opponent did not in the moment.

“There’s definitely that in the back of my head, just kind of knowing if I can push her and keep the pressure on and all of that,” Keys said. “She’s obviously not been in many situations like this. Just being able to use [the] experiences that I’ve been in.”

Since turning professional in 2009 — when Andreeva was just two years old — Keys has won seven WTA titles, played in four Grand Slam semifinals and the US Open final in 2017, and achieved a career-high ranking of No. 7. Only Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina have reached more major quarterfinals than Keys since the start of the 2015 season.

And while Keys has never accomplished her ultimate goal of major champion, everything she has learned in that quest was on full display on Monday. Now she’ll look to utilize that same experience and veteran poise to prolong her impressive grass-court season and get another step closer to achieving a dream.

After a lackluster start to the 2023 season, including a third-round loss at the Australian Open and a second-round defeat at the French Open, Keys has rediscovered her form on grass over the past two weeks. She was dominant in her lone warm-up event at Eastbourne and didn’t drop a set en route to her first title of the year. She’s now on a nine-match win streak and hadn’t dropped a set at Wimbledon prior to the fourth round.

Keys is into the ninth major quarterfinal of her career, and first since the 2022 Australian Open. She will next face world No. 2 and reigning Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka on Wednesday with a chance to reach her first Wimbledon semifinal. It’s the only Grand Slam event in which she hasn’t reached the final four, and she could become the sixth active WTA player to do so at all four events.

Keys didn’t yet know who she would be playing when she spoke to the media on Monday, because Sabalenka was still playing in her fourth-round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova. When asked to speak about both of her potential opponents, Keys praised Sabalenka for her big hitting and serving, as well as her recent confidence. They have met twice before, with each recording a win, but never at a Grand Slam. While Sabalenka needed just 71 minutes for her straight-set win on Monday, for Keys, the tough battle against Andreeva, and all of the countless other close matches she’s had over the years, might be the difference in Wednesday’s showdown.

“I think they give you confidence that, even if things aren’t going perfectly, you can still find a way to find some good tennis,” Keys said. “In a perfect world, you win every single match nice with a bell on top. But realistically that probably doesn’t happen very consistently, especially when you’re asking yourself to play high level for two weeks.

“A match like today, obviously it’s kind of in the back of your mind. Even if you get broken early in a set or something like that, you know you’ve already been in the situation where you figured it out, and you can do that again.”

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