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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday April 6, 2021

Defending Volvo Car Open champion Madison Keys has not truly felt her tennis for some time. On Monday Tennis Now asked the former World No.7, who has played just ten matches since the WTA Tour restarted last August, when she last felt like she was “in rhythm.”

Tennis Express

Keys says it has been rough sledding since the end of 2019.

"It's been difficult,” she said. “Obviously it's been really difficult for everyone in lots of different ways so I think the biggest problem that I've had is not feeling like I've had lots of matches and been able to feel like I'm playing well.”

Keys hopes that a return to the scene of her fourth career title (of five) will be the springboard that kicks her into a higher gear this spring. At the very least, she believes she’ll be able to play more matches.

“I feel like I'm in a pretty good spot in my life but it's obviously difficult being a tennis player and feeling like you can't quite get your footing back and getting that rhythm,” she said. “So it's difficult, I mean it's a tough situation and looking forward I think there are a lot of tournaments that are scheduled to happen and look very positive, so I think we're kind of moving into a stretch where I think we'll see some really good tennis from everyone because we're kind of back to almost as normal as we can be."

Keys, who will take on 2016 Charleston champ Sloane Stephens in the second round, says that in the past clay has really helped her solidify her game, due to the fact that it slows everything down just a touch.

"Definitely. I think in the past, when I'm kind of struggling to find my footing on the faster hard courts, clay has really slowed the game down and helped me piece together my game again and gotten me ready for those faster courts, especially going into the grass, so I think it's actually perfect timing,” she said.

Stephens Searching for Form as Well

Stephens, who defeated Wang Xinyu, owns a 3-1 lifetime record against Keys, but the one loss came in Charleston in the quarterfinals in 2019.

She might have an advantage in that she has played a match already in Charleston, while Keys has yet to take the court due to having a first-round bye.

Stephens has always been a bit of an enigma wrapped inside a mystery, and that trend has held true over the last two seasons. Wins have been hard to come by for the talented American, who has gone 6-16 since the start of 2020. She’s had an up and down career, but the 2017 US Open finalist and 2018 Roland-Garros runner-up is a firm believer that her game can take flight on the clay.

“For me at this moment it’s more about focusing on what I can control,” she said on Tuesday. “I think just growing up in Florida, playing on green clay a lot. It became my favorite surface and I’ve had some of my better results on clay, which has been good, and my most consistent results probably—it’s just always been a comfortable surface for me.”


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