June 3, 2018 / 6:44 PM / 6 months ago

Stephens and Keys on collision course after overcoming French Open hump

PARIS (Reuters) - Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys are eager to renew the friendliest rivalry in tennis — and to do that both need to win one more match at the French Open.

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 3, 2018 Sloane Stephens of the U.S. celebrates after winning her fourth round match against Estonia's Anett Kontaveit REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

The last time the duo faced each other over the net, Stephens ended up consoling her tearful friend after she demolished Keys in the 2017 U.S. Open final.

Moments later the newly crowned champion pulled her chair across the net to sit beside Keys, the two sharing a good laugh.

The best buddies both reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros for the first time on Sunday, thanks to some encouragement from each other.

“I think she’s playing well. She’s the only person I actually watch because I will be texting her during the match, ‘Come on, what are you doing?’” Stephens said following her 6-2 6-0 rout of Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit.

It was a sentiment shared by Keys, who admitted she was an emotional wreck during Stephens’ third-round tussle with Camila Giorgi which ended with the American winning the third set 8-6.

“During treatment yesterday I had Sloane on (TV) and was living and dying on every point in the end,” said Keys, who needs to overcome Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva to set up a potential semi-final showdown with Stephens.

“I saw her in the locker room and I was like ‘God, you made me nervous at the end’.

“I always want to see Sloane do well. I’d love for both of us to be able to be in the position to play each other multiple times.”

Rather than thinking about what might happen a few days down the line, Stephens was in a reflective mood after finally getting over her fourth-round hump in Paris.

“Once you get this far there is still more to be done but a personal milestone for myself was getting to the quarters, obviously doing well here (after falling in the) fourth round a lot of the years,” said 10th seed Stephens, who had lost in the last 16 four times.

“That was something big for me, which is great. But hopefully it doesn’t end here. I would like to keep going.”

The 25-year-old admitted it was “super cool” that she had now reached quarters at all four majors but this particular landmark was nothing to shout about.

“I don’t think that I’m such a great claycourt player. I just enjoy playing on it. I’m no Rafa. I just try to take it day-by-day and enjoy myself,” added Stephens, who was beaten in the first round of two of her four events on red dirt during the run-up to Roland Garros.

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 3, 2018 Madison Keys of the U.S. celebrates after winning her fourth round match against Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

“I didn’t make major waves or splashes in the claycourt season... I lost to some good players. But everything kind of leads into here and having a good result here is the most important thing.”

Keys agreed after she too completed her set of reaching at least the quarters at all four slams.

“It’s awesome. This was always kind of the one where it was the most difficult for me, and it was always the toughest one to feel like I could play well here. So to be able to get to the quarter-finals really means a lot,” said Keys, who beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1 6-4.

Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Neil Robinson

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