Keys finds … keys to victory in Charleston

Madison Keys took home a … lotta keys from the place she says feels like home.

The 24-year-old was given the key to the city of Charleston.

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She also earned the keys to a new Volvo as the American wrapped up an impressive week at the Volvo Car Open with the title.

Keys also found the … keys to winning once again.

She blasted 54 winners in defeating Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (5), 6-4 in the final.

And with it, she won her first career title on the clay – even if it was the American version.

But the turning point may well have come in the quarterfinals, when she defeated her self-described best friend on Tour, Sloane Stephens.

Those two had met at the 2017 US Open final and in the 2018 French Open semifinals. But the younger Keys hadn’t even sniffed a set.

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Stephens was stone faced after losing to her friend Keys. But when she got to the net, she managed a smile, a hug – and a joke. It was a big match for both. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

This match, though not deep into a major, seemed to be a fairly significant moment for both Americans.

Both have spent the season searching for form, riding the coaching carousel and trying to establish a foundation for the busy spring and summer. Both have big results to defend in Paris.

But Keys stayed the course against Stephens in beating her for the first time. And she was commanding against Monica Puig in the semifinals.

On Sunday, she stared down her 0-2 career record against Wozniacki in a powerhouse effort that showcased why so many have been waiting for years for her to go on a tear.

The “new coach” effect

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Keys hugs new/old coach Todero after winning Charleston. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

Keys has had a difficult time settling on a coach in recent years. That, and some wrist issues, have not helped her. Reaching the US Open final in 2017 was supposed to be the moment when she took the final step, right to the top of the game.

It didn’t happen.

The American began the season with countryman Jim Madrigal on board. Madrigal had been working with Tennys Sandgren.

But even by WTA standards, that was short-lived.

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A blistered toe was the only thing Keys struggled with during her win Sunday. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

She arrived in Charleston with a new coach in her corner. It was news we broke on Tennis.Life last Sunday.

For whatever reason, there seemed to be very little press about that coming out of Charleston. (Or about Stephens’s temporary and tentative coaching arrangement, for that matter). 

But it was fairly significant news, not only because the first weeks with a new coach often bring a bump of energy.

And in this case, with Juan Todero, it was a face, an approach that Keys was familiar with from their work together during her early days on the circuit.

If there’s one theme to be picked up on Keys’s bucket list for her coaches, it’s comfort and familiarity. Perhaps that’s why the relationship with Lindsay Davenport was so fruitful.

Madison Keys back with Juan Todero

“It was a really good first week for my coach and I. Hopefully we can keep this up. Kind of a high bar,” Keys said during the trophy ceremony.

A turning point

If there was a moment this one seemed to turn in an hour-long, extremely tight first set, it was when Keys, on her first set point in the first-set tiebreak, hit a backhand down the line.

She thought she had it.

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Keys celebrates – briefly – when she thought she had the first-set tiebreak won. But she had a second chance, and made good on it. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

She didn’t have it.

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Oh NOES! Just long with the backhand down the line after a tremendous point. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

Next point, another set point (but on Wozniacki’s serve), she didn’t hesitate in hitting the very same shot. But this time, from a much more balanced position.

And she made it.

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After hitting the backhand down the she had just missed on the first set point, Keys celebrates winning the first-set tiebreak. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

The second set was more of a formality, as Keys just took over.

A coaching bump for Wozniacki, too

Wozniacki, who even joked after the match about her lack of love for clay, gave a shutout to her mentor for the week, 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone.

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Francesca Schiavone shared her clay-court savvy with Wozniacki this week – and who could argue it didn’t help? Not Wozniacki. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

“I feel like although my love for clay hasn’t always been there, this week has been very enjoyable. So hopefully, more good to come,” she said.

This was the seventh consecutive trip to Charleston for Keys, who has had some great efforts and some early exits. 

She lost to eventual champion Kiki Bertens in the semifinals last year. And in 2015, she lost to Angelique Kerber in the final.

As the impressive crowd rose to applaud her during the ceremony, she stood there with a beatific smile on her face, just soaking it all in.

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Keys basked in the appreciation from her “new” hometown of Charleston – she now has the key to the city. (Screenshot: WTAtv)

“The support I have from everyone in the stands means the world to me. Every time I come, I feel like I’m at home,” she said. “I’d also like to sway thank you to Volvo – my new favourite car.”

For Wozniacki, it was visit No. 6. She has one title (in 2011), two finals, a semifinal and two quarterfinals to show for it. Not too bad.

Keys moves up four spots to No. 14 with the win, while Wozniacki moves up one spot, to No. 12.

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