Stephens sets Keys semi-final clash
US Open finalist saw off characteristically feisty challenge of Puntintseva to break new career ground in Paris.
Having never before graduated from the last 16 at Roland-Garros, Madison Keys is through to her first semi-final on the Paris clay.
She defeated the world No.98 Yulia Putintseva 7-6(5) 6-4 and is yet to drop a set this fortnight. She will face her friend Sloane Stephens, who defeated her last September in the US Open final, for a place in the ultimate decider here.
“I’m liking the clay a little more now that I’ve made a semi-final here,” smiled Keys. “Winning helps. Against Sloane, I’m going to have to be the one to try to go for my shots and open up the court more.
“I have been told quite often that I'll never win or do well because I'm too nice a person and I just don't have it [the killer instinct]. I think that's a load of crap. I don't think you have to be mean in order to win matches.
“There's a difference between being intense and wanting it and fighting, and just not being nice. So that's something that I have always stayed true to. I'm not ever going to try to be a person that isn't as nice as possible. That feels more authentic to me and I think I'm still doing okay.”
More than okay, at Roland-Garros 2018. On easily the coolest day of the tournament, morning rain left the afternoon air heavy inside Court Suzanne-Lenglen. In her kit of calm blue, Keys was as impassive as Putintseva was typically demonstrative in raging purple. Having discarded a 5-3 advantage in the first set, the Kazakh watched as Keys grabbed three straight games. Putintseva repelled two set points before the breaker, and one more during it where the netcord saved her again. Yet a powerful backhand winner from Keys brokered no further argument.
In the second set the Kazakh’s attack was first neutralised and then countered by the depth and placement of Keys' groundstrokes, as the American broke for 4-3. Minutes later, Putintseva’s bid to be the first player from Kazakhstan to reach a Grand Slam semi-final was over.
Several times this fortnight Keys had said she hoped to put herself in a position to meet her good friend Stephens here. But she simply laughed at the idea that the two will now observe strict boundaries in their relationship ahead of the upcoming semi here.
“We don't really have boundaries, and I don't think that's going to change,” Keys said. “It's never stopped us before, so I don't think we're going to have that issue. No, we don't have to walk around each other in the locker room. That would just be weird and awkward.
Keys also confirmed that her three-year on-off partnership with coach Lindsay Davenport is altering again, as the three-time Grand Slam winner is stepping back from the lead role although she will still be involved. But sorting out who may fill the post can wait just for the moment.
Keys has more pressing business to attend to at Roland-Garros 2018.