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Why is Keys so solid at slams?
Eighth seed Barty and 2018 semi-finalist Keys end the runs of big-name slayers.
Big-name slam champions bookend Ashleigh Barty’s string of early Roland-Garros defeats.
But in 2019, with a single-digit seeding next to her name for the first time, the Australian is warming to the task.
On Monday, as the second-highest ranked woman left in the top half of the draw, Barty had her turn stepping up to the role as the bigger name on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
In drizzly heavy conditions, she ended the run of Serena Williams’ plucky conqueror, Sofia Kenin, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0.
“It’s my first time this week on this beautiful court, and I’m playing with fun, playing with freedom,” Barty said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself here … I play my best when I keep it very simple.”
Seven years ago, as a 16-year-old wildcard, Barty managed just three games against Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Last year, it took a returning Williams to deny her in three tough sets.
Yet her improvement have been marked.
In Barty's second major back after a near two-year sabbatical, it was American Madison Keys who eased past her in the first round in 2017.
After trouncing Keys to steer Australia to Fed Cup victory over the US in February, the pair will square off for a third time with a semi-final berth on the line.
“I played her here at Roland-Garros a few years ago in a match I would love to forget,” Barty said.
“So I think it's very much a fresh, clean slate from this match, at Fed Cup that we had as well. Different surface. I mean, as different as you can probably get, indoor hard to an outdoor clay court.
“I think it's an amazing opportunity for me to go out there and try and play my brand of tennis again, and take it to her as much as I can. She's obviously had really good success here in the past.”
Keys, a semi-finalist in Paris last year, took down Katerina Siniakova 6-2, 6-4, with the Czech unable to back up her win over top seed Naomi Osaka.
“It's going to be a tough one,” Keys said. “I think she's obviously playing well to make quarter-finals, and I didn't get to see how she played today, but I feel like clay actually suits her game really well with her kick serve and slice and all that.”
Keys has reached the second week at 13 of her past 17 majors, following a run to the Australian Open semi-finals in 2015. It is a record which she does not take for granted.
“It's always special and stressful and an experience every single time,” Keys said. “It's definitely something that I'm happy that I've gotten through to fourth rounds and quarterfinals now a couple times now. But it never, never feels routine.”
Barty broke early and often in a commanding first set as variety on serve and skidding backhand slices had her foot-stomping Moscow-born American opponent combing for clues on how to buck the trend.
The pair had met twice before, including Barty’s straight-sets result in that Fed Cup tie in February.
But Kenin, all of 20 years, was learning fast.
Desperate to dig her way out of the inevitable emotional let-down of having beaten Williams in the previous round, she began to read Barty’s serve better and as light showers returned to Chatrier, the 20-year-old’s bold shot-making clinched the second set.
Where Barty may have panicked in the past, the 23-year-old was a picture of composure in the deciding set.
Her patience paved way for the freedom to go for more as she romped through to her second straight Grand Slam quarter-final.
Barty and Keys appear to be warming to their roles as the bigger names in the game.