Insider Notebook: Learning To Love Clay

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

It’s been a rainy day here in Rome as we wait for the Internazionali BNL d’Italia semifinals to get underway. So I’m emptying the notebook while the notebook is still dry. One semifinal note: the first semifinal between Madison Keys and Garbiñe Muguruza has been moved to Court Pietrangeli, and will start as soon as the rain stops and the courts are prepared.

– Madison Keys surprising herself: After her tough 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win over Barbora Strycova in the quarterfinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Friday, the 21-year-old American was asked whether she knew she could play so well on clay.

“No,” she said with a smile.

With her run to the semifinals in Rome, Keys has notched her best result on European clay. Her success in Rome may be surprising to some – she’s lost just one set all week – but it shouldn’t be. Her powerful game should translate well on clay. She proved that in 2015 when she made her biggest tour final in Charleston, pushing Angelique Kerber deep into a third set.

But Keys had needed time to convince herself she can get results on clay, as opposed to falling into the trap of seeing it as a stop-off before her beloved grass.

“I’m still very excited for grass,” Keys said. “Let’s put that out there right now.”

“I think over the years I have just eventually accepted that we’re not going to not have a clay court season, so going into it being positive about it is the only way to deal with it,” Keys said. “I think this year it’s just been, Okay, let’s do a little bit better than last year, and not really getting ahead of myself and really just focusing each match just trying to do what I’m here for.”

On Saturday she faces Garbiñe Muguruza for a spot in the final. Muguruza looks to be rounding into form before the French Open, playing a focused, resilient match to beat Timea Bacsinszky, 7-5, 6-2. It’s the first meeting between the two in a WTA-level main draw match. Keys beat Muguruza in three sets in qualifying for Cincinnati back in 2012.

“I’m excited,” Keys said. “I did not think coming into this whole kind of stretch that things would go well. I mean, even in Madrid I felt like I was playing pretty well on the clay and really just hopefully I can keep things going and, you know, keep it going tomorrow and hopefully at the end of the week be really happy.”

– Timea Bacsinszky’s perfect French Open lead-up: Bacsinszky will go into the French Open having won 14 of her last 17 matches. Despite a frustrating loss to Muguruza, which sees her drop to 0-4 against the Spaniard, Bacsinszky still found a silver lining.

“Well, without saying any bad words, it s-u-c-k-s,” Bacsinszky said after the loss. “Third time I’m losing almost with the same score against her.

“Yeah, it’s a big challenge to play against her, because there is always some possibilities to get through the first set or maybe in the second one, but then she leveled up her game. So I think, for sure, playing so many matches in the last couple of weeks got me probably a little tired, as well. But I still had a lot of energy and I was like super enthusiastic to do even better.

“Sometimes it happens that the opponent is making better choices than you are in crucial moments, so I have to give her a lot of credit for that.

“Basically I think I’m really happy about my clay court season so far, and the good news is that I can go home and celebrate tonight for the win that I had in Morocco. This is the good news of the day. I’m taking the positive side of it.”

– Madison Keys, M.D.: Who says you can’t learn anything from television?

Q. You were rubbing your arm quite a bit in the second and third set. Is it bothering you more? The conditions are heavier today than they have been in the past.

MADISON KEYS: It was a little cold. Balls were a little bit heavier. It was a little bit tight. But I’d like to think of myself as a doctor since I watched a lot of Grey’s Anatomy, so I feel like I figured it out (laughter).

– Bacsinszky goes home again: The Swiss star was asked whether she has ever returned to the hotel near Lausanne where she interned as a hospitality manager before returning to tennis. She ended up giving the best tourism ad for Switzerland.

“Yeah. Well, I did. I love this ski resort over there, Villars-sur-Ollon. It’s close from Lausanne. You take the car and you can be there in 45 minutes. So for sure Zermatt or Verbier or whatever, so many others. Vanghen, St. Moritz are more fancy, but I’m not that type of girl which likes those big things and showing off and stuff. I prefer to stay in a small mountain village. And, well, the hotel is great.

“When I worked at it, it was already great. Maybe better with me. No. (Laughter.) No, no, I was really – no, my colleagues were way better than I was. I was just learning, so it’s normal.

“The hotel is really great. It’s one of, still, my favorite hotel worldwide. I’m going to play the tournament of Gstaad this year in Switzerland – finally a woman’s tournament in Switzerland! – so I’m really proud of it. The ATP communications officer told my boyfriend yesterday, Oh, I heard you guys are going to Gstaad. And over there the palace is unbelievable.

So, yeah, it’s almost a 6-star over there, probably. But we’ll see if it challenges my old hotel where I worked, because, I have great memories over there.

I went after my semifinal of Miami for a couple of days, and, well, it’s great to go back there and to see where the colleagues are, because some of them are like traveling worldwide and they come only for half a season, so only for six months, and then they go back somewhere else.

But it’s fun to see how everyone is everywhere. And actually they joke a lot around me. They’re like, No, come on, we never — if we would knew that you were playing tennis — because they didn’t know. Actually, they didn’t know. They were making fun of me. Oh, like, you’re so old to do an internship. 24 years old? Internship at that time? Oh, your feet must hurt.

And then they found out that I play tennis, and like two years later I’m like top 10. They’re like, Okay.”

– Daria Kasatkina powering through: It hasn’t been the clay court swing the young Russian wanted. On her favorite surface she won just two matches on European clay, though she did make the quarterfinals in Charleston as well.

“I was waiting for this time [of the season] but looks like after a good start I have a little bit down,” Kasatkina told WTA Insider. “It’s ok. It happens. I will work and try to come back on my level.”

Kasatkina may be paying the price for her early season success. “This year we go tournament by tournaments. It was the plan because at the start of the season we didn’t know how I will play and if I will not reach a lot of points at the start.

“Start was good. I played a lot of matches. Reach a lot of points. Now we can maybe a little bit slow down. We will see, actually, how I feel.”

– Daria Gavrilova jumpstarts her season: After her star-making run to the fourth round of the Australian Open to start to the year, Gavrilova struggled mightily to get back on track. She won just one tour-level match after that before the tour turned to clay in Charleston.

“I was pretty flat going to the Middle East,” Gavrilova told WTA Insider. “I wasn’t ready. My mind was still at home. I was like, oh my god, really? I had tough losses in America, put myself in a good position in both matches but couldn’t close it out. But it happens.

“I was pretty frustrated after I lost to Zarina Diyas in Miami. And then I thought it’s a good time to make a difference, it’s not just me struggling. I can separate myself from other girls who are not winning so many matches. I was like ‘clay is my favorite surface’. I was keen to start playing on clay and just get over with hard court. Had a few good wins in Charleston and did get revenge over Zarina and that felt really good.”

Since the clay season began, Gavrilova scored wins over Petra Kvitova, Elina Svitolina, Simona Halep, and Sabine Lisicki. She’ll be seeded in Paris.

– Congratulations Li Na: No.2 is on the way.

– Serena previews her documentary: Set your DVRs for June 22nd.

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