APRIL 21 - MAY 4, 2025

Keys emulates Williams sisters with great escape against Jabeur

Coming into Madrid, the last time Madison Keys had won three matches in a row was at the 2023 US Open eight months ago.

The American power-hitter missed the first two months of this season with a shoulder injury – she tore her latissimus dorsi muscle just two weeks before flying to Australia to kick off her 2024 – and since her return to action at Indian Wells in March, she amassed a 3-3 win-loss record prior to this fortnight.

She’s now added four more victories to her tally, thanks to her exploits in Madrid, where the No.18 seed followed up her battling success over world No.3 Coco Gauff in the fourth round with a 0-6, 7-5, 6-1 performance against world No.9 Ons Jabeur to reach the semi-finals at the Caja Magica for the first time in her career, on her 10th appearance at the tournament.

Keys may claim she is not a big fan of clay, but her win on Tuesday over Jabeur sees her join rarefied company as she becomes just the third American woman to reach the semi-finals of both WTA 1000 clay tournaments – Madrid in Rome – alongside Serena and Venus Williams.

Keys rallied back from 0-6, 0-2 down against Jabeur, who was on a nine-match winning streak in Madrid, having won the title here in 2022 before missing the event last year through injury.

“Obviously not normal to go down 8-0 and then start playing tennis, but I was able to really reset and relax after getting that first game and really just allowed myself to start playing tennis,” said Keys, who next faces last year’s finalist and world No.1 Iga Swiatek in the last-four stage on Thursday.

“At one point it was, like, ‘Wow, this is embarrassing. We’ve got to figure something out’.

“But I think eventually I was, like, I’m just going to start going for things. I’m going to start just trying to focus on myself and my game, just try to get into every single game and just try to make things competitive. Once I did that, it felt like the momentum switched really quickly.”

Jabeur delivered a 23-minute bagel to Keys and went up an early 2-0 break in the second set before her momentum was suddenly halted.

Keys, whose huge groundstrokes can cause some serious damage in Madrid’s altitude, found her range, and confidently fired monster forehands from all corners of the court.

She claimed her first ever set off of Jabeur, in their third meeting, to level the quarter-final and leapt to a 5-0 lead in the decider before closing the match on her first opportunity.

‘I’m begrudgingly loving it’

Keys, who now owns six top-10 victories on clay, is 1-2 head-to-head against Swiatek but won their most recent encounter, in Cincinnati in 2022.

The 29-year-old was always told her aggressive game style would be perfectly-suited for Madrid but she never really backed up that theory with good results; up until this week.

“I guess this year it’s finally clicking and maybe it is suited for my game, or at least this Madison’s game,” said Keys with a laugh.

Asked to elaborate what “this Madison” means, Keys added: “She’s older and wiser.

“I think I’m a fairly good natural mover on clay, so I think I finally just stopped fighting it and I’m really leaning into it and begrudgingly loving it.”

Swiatek is one of the greatest clay-courters the game has ever seen and the three-time Roland Garros champion is undoubtedly the favourite entering the semi-finals.

“I think it’s great. The last time we played (on clay) was in Rome, which is obviously heavier and slower, and I think being in Madrid can obviously lean a little bit more towards my advantage,” said Keys, looking ahead to her clash with the Polish top seed.

“But, I mean, it’s Iga on clay, so that’s the reality of it. But I’m really looking forward to it, and I think it’s going to be a really great challenge.”

On her part, Jabeur admitted fatigue crept in early in the second set and despite her disappointment, walks away from Madrid with many positives from her run to the quarter-finals.

“My energy was really low, I think being sick before the start of the tournament didn’t help much. She started playing much better, putting the ball in, making me think about it more,” said Jabeur.

“It’s been such a positive week. I wasn’t playing really well before coming here but I had really positive matches, I fought really hard for most of the matches and I’m really proud with the level, I feel like I’m coming back. I’ll keep my head high and for sure keep working hard.”