MELBOURNE (Reuters) – American Madison Keys could not muster much of a challenge against world number one Ash Barty in the Australian Open semi-finals on Thursday but the 2017 U.S. Open finalist will leave Melbourne excited about what lies ahead.
The former world number seven won only 11 matches last year during a season when her ranking slipped out of the top-50 and the 26-year-old said her performance made her sink into a “dark pit of despair”.
Keys, who previously made the semi-finals at Melbourne Park as a 19-year-old in 2015, has bounced back incredibly in 2022 and has already won 11 matches, including an Australian Open tune-up event in Adelaide.
Keys said she has learnt from her Australian trip this year that enjoying herself on a tennis court was vitally important.
“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,” she told reporters following her 6-1 6-3 defeat by Barty.
“The biggest thing for the next part of the year is … I’m going to knock on some wood … physically I feel really good after playing a lot of matches.
“Mentally I still am fighting to get back to the level 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. The good news of having a really shitty year before is you don’t have many points to defend.”
Getting to play so many matches at the start of the season will be “really beneficial”, feels the American.
Keys said she had a game plan to counter Barty’s near-perfect game but she was not able to execute it against the two-time major winner at the floodlit Rod Laver Arena.
“It’s tough. It sucks,” she said with a smile. “I mean, she’s just playing incredibly well. You have a game plan in your head, but she’s just executing everything so well.
“She’s playing some really, really good tennis but she’s also so locked in and focused. I have played her a handful of times, and this is easily the best she’s ever been playing.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Pritha Sarkar)