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Champion's Corner: Keys

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Madison Keys single-handedly ended two surprising droughts during a water-logged week in Birmingham, England. By winning the Aegon Classic on Sunday with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Barbora Strycova, the 21-year-old became the first American woman in 17 years to make her Top 10 debut, and ended her own two-year title drought dating back to 2014 (Eastbourne).

The last American woman to make her Top 10 debut? Serena Williams in 1999.

WTA Insider caught up with Keys after her milestone week in Birmingham.

WTA Insider: Congratulations on the title at the Aegon Classic. How do you feel?
Keys: I feel great. I think it’s definitely the best outcome I could have had and really happy I was able to get this many matches on grass leading into Wimbledon.

WTA Insider: It wasn’t an easy week in Birmingham with the weather. You seemed to handle all of it well. You didn’t get distracted or anything. Do you agree?
Keys: Yeah, I do. I was pretty lucky with how my matches seemed to go. I don’t think I had any rain delays once the match started and never had to play two matches in one day so I  was pretty lucky. But there were definitely was times I didn’t think the tournament would get to the final.

WTA Insider: You played incredibly well in the first set. The second set Barbora came back and started throwing more variety at you. You had to save break points. In the past, that’s a set you lose. That wasn’t the case today.
Keys: Yeah, I was definitely expecting her level to raise. I think as well as I played in the first set, I don’t think she played her best, so definitely was expecting it. There were a couple of break points that I had where she just came up with a serve or a shot that was too good. That was a little bit frustrating. But I was really happy that I was able to figure my way out of some really tough service games where I was down a break point and things weren’t going as easily as they were in the first set.

But I agree, I think it was was a set that in the past I definitely could have lost and it could have changed the match. So really happy with the personal growth I feel that I’ve had.

WTA Insider: Talk about dealing with adversity in matches. Do you feel like you’re not panicking as much in those moments?
Keys: I think not panicking is a huge aspect of it. A sense of calm that no matter what happens you’re always in a match, even you can be down 5-0 in the second set and you can come back and win. Knowing that has really kind of helped me calm down and really help me take each game point-by-point, and not thinking oh I’m down 0-40 I have to win three points.

I feel like sometimes I would have the tendency to try and win three points in one. So I’d try and hit harder, hit an ace, just to get back to even as quick as possible. So I think that sense of calm has really helped me and really helped my game.

WTA Insider: You’ve talked about wanting to improve your consistency. You’ve now made the final in Rome, a good run at the French Open, and now the title. Is it just all coming together, or that you’re healthy? Talk about the last month, month and a half or so.
Keys: I just feel really good. I feel like my team has come together and I’ve had a lot of great support.

But I also feel like it’s just all slowly coming into my game. I feel like for me I almost have too many options sometimes where I know I can get away with hitting a winner 10 feet behind the baseline and it might go in three out of 10 times, but having that option makes me think about it. So I think just sticking to basics has really helped me. It’s been a lot of hard work but I think the practices that I had with a really solid team has really helped me in matches.

WTA Insider: You’re into the Top 10. Has it sunk in yet that you’re one of the 10 best players in the world right now?
Keys: That’s crazy! No, it hasn’t sunken in. A lot of my family members will keep calling me and saying “Hi, Top 10 player!” It’s definitely not something that’s sunken in yet. It’s something I’m going to get used to and I’m really looking forward to it.

WTA Insider: You’re the first in this century from America to make her Top 10 debut.
Keys: That’s craziness. I feel like there’s been so many great American tennis players in the last 10-15 years that have been probably been really really close to that. But it’s definitely a huge honor that I was the first one.

WTA Insider: How did you find out you had a shot to break into the Top 10 last week?
Keys: The WTA tagged me in a tweet about it the morning of the semifinals match. It showed up on my phone. I quickly x-ed out and was like ‘You didn’t read that. No. Don’t think about it.’ So that’s kind of how I find out but once I was on the court it wasn’t even on my mind.

WTA Insider: You must be pretty pleased about being able to stay focused and not let that distract you.
Keys: It was more of a thought in the morning when I saw it. I was like ‘Oh my gosh, that’s huge.’ Then when I was on the court I obviously had a slow start and once that happened it wasn’t even in my brain anymore. You should try to win some points.

WTA Insider: You’ve had a steady rise through the rankings. Your year-end ranking has improved year over year. But when we spoke at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai last year you seemed pretty down about yourself and your season.
Keys: I definitely was feeling a bit down at the end of the season. Part of it was it was a really long season for me. It was the longest season I had ever had. But I think now I’ve just got so much better at not even listening to the outside opinions that it doesn’t affect me anymore. I think I used to be really concerned with what other people were thinking or how things were coming across, and people don’t always have all the information. So listening to anyone who was outside my small support group was harming me. I think I got a lot better at that.

Having a really tough off-season and start of the year has really made me appreciate playing tennis and being healthy and being able to just go out and compete at the highest level just knowing that I had all of the practice and all of the work put in.

WTA Insider: Let’s talk about the work you have put in. There’s a lot that goes on outside of the limelight that we don’t get to see. Can you key in on a moment during those closed door training sessions that helped you unlocked things this year?
Keys: I think a big thing working with [trainer] Scott Byrnes is he’s helped me get so much stronger and that’s been such a huge factor for me. Being stronger means I’m able to last a little bit longer and makes me feel like I put all this work in off of the court, so I know when I’m on the court I know that I’m physically ready to be out there for as long as it needs to take.

Obviously we work on different things for different seasons. Before the red clay season we worked a lot on the aerobics. Before grass season stated we were working more on power and strength because it’s a much bigger first strike game. So all those little things have helped me so much. I’ve been really lucky to have an amazing trainer.

Read more about Keys’ trainer Scott Byrnes in our Coach’s Corner, and listen to more from Keys in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:

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Vesnina Vanquishes Watson In Eastbourne

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

EASTBOURNE, England – 2013 champion Elena Vesnina got her Aegon International Eastbourne campaign off to a winning start, storming past British No.2 Heather Watson in straight sets for a spot in the second round.

Watch live action from Eastbourne this week on WTA Live powered by TennisTV!

The Russian needed just over an hour to oust the home favorite 6-2, 6-3, and grab her first grass court win of the season.

“It was really a nice atmosphere on the court because a lot of people came to watch our match,” the Russian said. “It was really tough conditions: windy, smoggy at the end. I’m really happy that I won this difficult match.”

Despite the conditions, Vesnina was in full flight against the Brit in the overcast Eastbourne. After starting out in a deadlock, Vesnina left Watson reeling when she rattled off four games in a row to snap up the first set 6-2. Watson continued to struggle in the second set before giving up a late break to hand Vesnina the match.

Vesnina won 71% of points behind her first serve and not facing a break point in the entire match. She struck 24 winners to 16 unforced errors, compared to Watson’s 13 and 17. Vesnina was especially dominating at the net, winning 12 of her 14 net points.

“I’m really happy to be back in Eastbourne,” Vesnina said after her win. “It’s bringing me some good memories from winning the title here in 2013. Of course, it’s tough to play Heather here in England again with everyone supporting her.”

Nevertheless, the win is a good omen for the Russian: in 2013, Vesnina beat out Watson in the second round on her way to the title.

After ousting the home favorite in commanding fashion, Vesnina will next look to thwart Belinda Bencic’s happy homecoming to Eastbourne. Bencic, the defending champion, kicked her 2015 season into high gear at the Aegon International last year and already has a semifinal appearance at the Ricoh Open under her belt.

Watson wasn’t the only local who took a tumble in the first round. Of the four Brits in the main draw, three lost today as Tara Moore and Naomi Broady were sent crashing out.

Monica Puig played through a thick fog in her 6-1, 6-1 against Broady, and admitted that the blustery conditions were difficult to adjust to.

“Just keeping my focus was the main key, Puig said. “I knew the points weren’t going to be long, so I just had to be very aware of what was going on.

“I’ve never played in a sea mist before. It was really something, it was tough to see the ball!”

Joining Vesnina and Puig in the second round are Eugenie Bouchard, Andrea Petkovic and Ekaterina Makarova.

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Insider Podcast: Wozniacki Tunes Up

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

EASTBOURNE, Great Britain – Former No.1 Caroline Wozniacki is starting to find her footing after a long layoff that forced her to miss the entire clay court season – including the French Open. Speaking with WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen at the Aegon International after her first round win over Alizé Cornet, Wozniacki first felt things were starting to fall into place following a pre-tournament practice with good friend and World No.3, Agnieszka Radwanska.

“I feel like I’m getting closer to where I want to be,” the Dane said in a Dropshot Edition of the WTA Insider Podcast. “I had a really good two hour practice with Aga yesterday; that made me feel good and like I know what I need to do. Birmingham wasn’t the best place to get rhythm because we kept going on and off the court.

“It was nice to get here knowing the weather is usually better here than anywhere else in the UK.”

Wozniacki reflects on her long absence from the tour, one that led her to a highly scheduled period of rest, relaxation, and a return to the piano, a former childhood pursuit.

“I used to play when I was younger, and I used to play some concerts as well. I just thought, ‘I have some time off, and it’s good for the brain as well.’

“I was good. Was. You know, when you start out playing again and think, ‘I used to do this so easily.’ Right now, I’m not very good, but then you keep improving every time because you start remembering things. I’m still getting there; I have a piano at home, and every time I’m home I’ll get lessons. I bought a keyboard for when I’m on the road, but I decided I had too much luggage, but maybe next trip!”

Listen to the full interview with the two-time US Open finalist below: 

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or on any podcast app of your choice and reviews are always helpful, so if you like what you’ve heard so far, leave us one. You can also get new episode alerts by following us on Twitter @WTA_Insider.

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Bacsinszky On Secret To Swiss Success

Bacsinszky On Secret To Swiss Success

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Timea Bacsinszky hasn’t always loved the grass. Before she returned to the tour after a three-year break, she was 3-5 in her career on the turf. “I was kind of afraid of grass for many years, but since I came back in 2013 [it’s changed].” Indeed, since her return three years ago she is 10-4 on grass with a Wimbledon quarterfinal already under her belt last year.

Bacsinszky’s first match on grass in three years came at Wimbledon qualifying in 2013. It was just the second tournament she played since deciding to return to the tour (the first being Roland Garros). “I played against Madison Brengle and I ended up winning 6-4 in the third.” Bacsinszky said during All-Access Hour at the Aegon International on Monday. “For me it was like a miracle, like coming from nowhere playing in Roehampton, which is like a potato field,” she said, much to the delight of a laughing press corp.

“All my respects to Roehampton, they are trying their best, but it’s not really the most glamorous grass court ever. With those like funny conditions, you have many courts everywhere and it’s like a bazaar. It’s like a zoo over there. I ended up winning a match. I was like, wow. And almost won my second match but I lost against Schmiedlova 7-5 in the third.”

Slowly, the always adaptable Bacsinszky, who has posted her best results on clay and hard courts, began to realize her game could flourish on grass.

“My game is quite good right now on grass because I’m able to play longer rallies if I really need to,” she said. “I know it’s not good to defend on grass, but I can be in that position to give one extra ball back for my opponent and to mix up with the spins to be able to come to the net, to be able to maybe do a chip and charge. I’m not even at 1% of Roger’s level in that, but I’m trying to improve my game and to make, yeah, everything possible what I can that can help me to play well on grass.”

Timea Bacsinszky

Roger Federer is a seven-time Wimbledon champion. Belinda Bencic is a junior Wimbledon champion and won the Aegon International for her first title last year. Stan Wawrinka is a two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist and Bacsinszky has also made the Wimbledon quarterfinals. Martina Hingis is a Wimbledon champion in singles and won the doubles title with Sania Mirza last year.

So what gives? Why are the Swiss so solid on grass? As is her wont, Bacsinszky had an interesting take.

“I think it’s not something about the surfaces but it’s more that being in the middle of Europe tennis-type-wise you have all those influences,” she explained. “The French are playing like they like the nice game, coming forward, making big shots, aesthetically nice, a lot of culture of tennis.

“Then you have the Spaniards fighting for every point, they don’t give a s***. And they just like go for every ball, try to give back so many balls, try to make work the [opponent]. Okay, you’re gonna say not every Spaniard, for sure. There are always the exceptions; Muguruza is not that type of player.

“The majority of Spaniards are like, ‘Okay, I’m going to fight for everything, and the spirit of clay court. Even if I have to chip everything, I’m going to win the match even if it’s ugly. Even if it’s playing with the other side of the racquet, I don’t care.’

Timea Bacsinszky

“Italy can be also like this. It’s a mixture. And then you have Eastern Europe, which are based on the baseline hitting everything, going for the lines, trying to take the ball early, putting a lot of pressure.

“Why Switzerland, why we have so many maybe good players? We have all these influences. And I think that’s what it’s like in the Swiss mentality, you’re open for everything. We have to learn more languages, every kid has an education. Most of the people have a job, a decent job. They work hard. We like to work. It’s all the system which works.

“And maybe – it’s a small parallel to say that – maybe that’s why we can also play well on grass, because we are open minded. We say, ‘Okay, we are gonna fight for every point. We are gonna try to hit balls. We’re gonna try maybe new things and we are going to accept the situation and how it is.’ And so we go for it.”

But for Bacsinszky it’s more than just about being Swiss. A child of Hungarian immigrants, she traces part of her her autonomous drive – her Twitter hashtag motto is #limitless – to her parents.

“My mom and my dad were, when I was a kid, telling me you have to fight for what you have, you have to fight for who you want to be, it’s not only given. You have to go and work for what you really want to get. It’s probably why also I’m restless. If I commit to something, I really want to go to my maximum. I never know where my limits are, where my maximum is, but I’m trying to seek it.

Timea Bacsinszky

“It’s probably because of the Hungarian influence, because they have been beaten so many times in war. They were such a big empire. But we are also quiet population. In Switzerland, you don’t say, ‘Oh, I’m a proud Hungarian.’ Other countries, they would all the time have the flags and stuff. But Hungarians are I believe in foreign countries they are really super quiet.

“I have this will and probably it’s coming from that. You have to fight. Like my dad fought to get away from Romania. He was Hungarian but in the Hungarian minority of Romania, and he couldn’t pass the borders and had to arrange a marriage in order to get out. I mean, political refugee.

“It was really tough. My mom had an easier situation, but I know it wasn’t easy for them. And I grew up with that. So that’s why I fought all the time for everything, what I did. It’s probably because of that.”

Click here to read more about this year’s Wimbledon Contenders, courtesy of WTA Insider.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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Muguruza Moves Towards Wimbledon

Muguruza Moves Towards Wimbledon

  • Posted: Jan 01, 1970

Garbiñe Muguruza hasn’t had too much time to revel in her maiden Grand Slam triumph. Not long after stunning World No.1 Serena Williams to win the French Open, the Spaniard had to shift focus to yet another major tournament, one played on courts that serve as a stark contrast to slow red clay.

“I just have to keep a totally open mind,” she told press after her opening round loss at the Mallorca Open. “I came to Mallorca with very little time to prepare. I mean, yesterday I was still in Paris, and this is a totally different surface.

“The truth is I’m disappointed, but now I’m just training harder to arrive ready for Wimbledon.”

While many French Open champions tend not to grab too many headlines as the tour takes over the All England Club, all eyes will be on Muguruza to see if she can back up last year’s breakthrough fortnight, when she upset Agnieszka Radwanska to reach the final – becoming the first Spanish woman to make it that far since Conchita Martinez in 1994.

Garbiñe Muguruza

“Oh man, I barely remember the last time. It’s been over a year since my [Wimbledon] final, and it feels like ages since I last stepped on grass. But sure, it brings me great memories, even though grass isn’t a surface I’ve always loved – I didn’t used to like it at all.”

While back-to-back quarterfinal appearances foreshadowed this year’s title run at Roland Garros, the Spaniard had won a grand total of one main draw match at Wimbledon, and was perilously close to elimination in bother her second and third round matches to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and Angelique Kerber before catching fire in the second week.

“I’ve learned to love it more lately, with time. And then reaching the final at Wimbledon, that was something so special.

“It’s always a hard switch, especially the first few days on grass, but there’s little tricks to help adjust.”

Playing her first major final, she played Williams through two tough sets, admitting to nerves playing a part in keeping her from stepping over the finish line.

“I felt I had a lot of opportunities against her, and I just thought in Wimbledon I was very nervous,” she said after winning in Paris. “I couldn’t really control that.”

Garbiñe Muguruza

After losing the opening set of her first round, Muguruza looked in complete control in Paris, rolling over the field and winning 12 straight sets en route to the title and a new career-high ranking of No.2. Whether the quantum leap in her resume gives her more confidence remains to be seen, but seems to know she can’t rest on her laurels.

“When you step out onto the court, it doesn’t matter if, last week, you’ve just won a Grand Slam, in the end it comes down to who can play their best on that day.”

Muguruza’s career has already been full of the highest of highs and lowest of lows; it took her until the Asian Swing to recover from reaching last year’s Wimbledon final, but she made up for lost time in style, going undefeated in round robin play of her BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global debut.

This season, but contrast, has been a slow build, putting one solid result on top of another before she was able to climb up and grab a piece of Grand Slam glory. A steep drop-off wouldn’t be out of character, but certainly out of step for a player who has not only evolved into a Grand Slam contender, but a Grand Slam champion.

Click here to read more about this year’s Wimbledon Contenders, courtesy of WTA Insider.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.

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