By Ashley Marshall
Defending champion Madison Keys begins the defense of her Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic title on Wednesday, as she gets her North American hard-court season underway. USOpenSeries.com caught up with Keys to discuss her 2018 season, her preparation for the US Open and her involvement with anti-bullying organization FearlesslyGiRL.
USOpenSeries.com: How does it feel to be back in the U.S. for the North American hard-court swing?
Madison Keys: It feels good. It’s always one of my favorite times of the year after being in Europe for so long, so getting to stay stateside for a little bit always feels really nice.
USOpenSeries.com: Traveling for so much of the year, what does it mean to you to come home and have some of those home comforts?
Madison Keys: It always feels so nice. Obviously, it’s just that little bit of extra comfort. You just feel like you know where everything is. For me, a lot of times I can drive places, where I never feel comfortable driving in Europe or in the UK. It’s just those little extra small things that people don’t really think about that make you feel more at home.
USOpenSeries.com: What are your first impressions of the new site for the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose?
Madison Keys: It looks really great. I know they didn’t have a ton of time to finish everything off for us, but the temporary building is so great, and they’ve already told us they’ll have a new permanent one next year for us. The courts look great, the stadium looks really nice, so so far it’s been really good.
USOpenSeries.com: You had lots of success last year in Stanford and Cincinnati. What makes the US Open Series so special to you?
Madison Keys: I think it’s a little bit different just because there are so many tournaments that are so big. Before Paris, we had Madrid and Rome, but with the US Open Series, you have one extra week, and you get to play a lot more matches, and you get to play a lot of the top girls earlier in rounds. You get a good feeling for your game and what you need to do to be ready to go for the US Open.
USOpenSeries.com: And where would you say your game is right now?
Madison Keys: It’s been pretty good. I’m defending [champion], so that’s always a little bit of a different experience, but I’m looking forward to it and just trying to do my best and be as best prepared as I can for the US Open.
USOpenSeries.com: Your win in this tournament last year really kick-started your summer. Is there something you can point to to help explain the success you had in New York?
Madison Keys: I think just having so many great high-quality matches [in the US Open Series] really helped me for the US Open. Even in Cincinnati when I lost, I played Garbiñe [Muguruza], and I lost in the third set, but it was really high quality, a really great match, and it gave me a lot of confidence. It was good having so many matches under my belt.
USOpenSeries.com: Does it feel like it’s already been a year since your run to the US Open final?
Madison Keys: In some ways, it feels like it was just yesterday, and in other ways, it feels like it was five years ago. It was an amazing experience for me. Obviously, the final didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I think I learned so much from that, and I learned how to handle the big matches a little bit better. I think the biggest thing is being able to try and get myself into those situations again so I can hopefully do a little bit better.
USOpenSeries.com: You’ve reached the semifinals in Paris, the quarterfinals in Melbourne and the third round in London this year. How would you evaluate the season you’re having?
Madison Keys: I think so far it’s been pretty solid. Obviously, there have been times when I wish I could have done better or had better results. But no one was really expecting the semifinal run at the French Open, so that’s something I’m really proud of. I think I’m very hard on myself and I always want more and better, but I also think there have been a lot of good moments this year.
USOpenSeries.com: You play Ajla Tomljanovic in your first match in San Jose, then possibly Serena Williams in the fourth round. How far do you look ahead in a draw?
Madison Keys: I always take it one at a time. I never really look at the draw. Sometimes I don’t even know who I’m playing in the next round until someone tells me because, for me, a lot of the times it doesn’t really matter. You don’t need to break the draw down because no one knows what’s going to happen. So for me, I just have to focus on who’s on the other side of the net, just that one match at a time.
USOpenSeries.com: Can you speak to your work with FearlesslyGiRL and how proud you are to be part of something so important?
Madison Keys: I’m incredibly proud to be a part of FearlesslyGiRL. I got involved just because I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to help people or make the world better. Finding something that meant so much to me, I felt like being a part of it has meant so much more for me than anyone else. People might think I’m crazy for saying that, but it makes me so proud to be a part of it. I’ve had girls come up to me and say they were having issues in class, but they talked to their parents or their teacher or their principal, and they’ve helped them. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that they’ve been inspired by what FearlesslyGiRL founder Kate [Whitfield] has been saying and what I’ve said, and I’m just so proud to be a part of that. To help even just one girl get through a difficult time really means a lot for me.
USOpenSeries.com: It’s just one month from the US Open. How excited are you to get back to New York, and what do you enjoy doing off the court here?
Madison Keys: I’m incredibly excited to be in New York. I have a couple tournaments before then, but I’m really excited to get back. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. I just love the energy, and I love how every time you turn a corner there’s always great food and something to do. I like exploring the city a little bit, and I’m looking forward to being able to do that.