Tuesday’s defeat guaranteed that Krejcikova, a tactically astute Czech player, cannot displace Ashleigh Barty at No. 1 in the next rankings. But she continues her rapid rise nonetheless. Outside the top 100 in 2020 in singles, Krejcikova has become a consistent threat in a women’s game filled with upsets and unexpected plot twists: Consider British qualifier Emma Raducanu’s run to the U.S. Open title last year.
It is Key’s turn to be the surprise so far in 2022. After dropping out of the top 50 by the end of last season, she is back in the final four in Australia, where she reached her first Grand Slam semifinal in 2015 at age 19.
“It mostly feels different because I’m seven years older, and it’s not my first semifinal of a Slam,” she said. “I think I’m a little bit more prepared this time around than I was all those years ago.”
Her opponent in that 2015 semifinal was No. 1 Serena Williams, the greatest women’s player of this era, who defeated her, 7-6 (5), 6-2, on her way to the title. Williams, now 40, is not playing in Melbourne this year, but Keys could face another No. 1 in Barty, who was to play American Jessica Pegula later on Tuesday.
Keys, who lost in the 2017 U.S. Open final to her close friend Sloane Stephens, has long been considered a potential Grand Slam champion. She is back in range again.
Chris Evert, who has known Keys since she trained as a teenager at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., said it is apparent that Keys is enjoying herself on the court more than last year.
“I’m seeing a very calm and focused Madison who is in control and managing her emotions like never before,” Evert wrote in a text message. “I’m seeing a fit and healthy Madison who is moving really well in and out of corners and not hitting risky shots because she can’t get back in the court. Her serve is almost unreturnable.”