PARIS (Reuters) - Madison Keys will need to do some homework on her fourth-round opponent at the French Open after admitting she has not seen fast-rising Romanian Mihaela Buzarnescu in action before.
The 13th-seeded American matched her best run in Paris with a 6-1 7-6(7) win over Japan’s Naomi Osaka on Friday and probably expected to be facing fourth seed Elina Svitolina next.
Instead, she is up against 31st seed Buzarnescu with a first Roland Garros quarter-final suddenly looking within reach on the clay surface she insists is finally beginning to grow on her.
“I don’t know how to pronounce her last name so I won’t say it,” the 23-year-old American told reporters.
“Obviously I can watch that (match against Svitolina) and see how things go, and I’m going to rely on my lovely coaches to help me out there and give me a game plan, then just going to go out and hopefully execute it well.
“I know that she’s seeded and I always see her name. I just haven’t been able to watch any of her matches. It’s kind of refreshing and nice to play someone you’ve never played before.”
Osaka was no stranger, with Keys having met her and beaten her twice — once in a three-set cliffhanger at the U.S. Open in 2016, also at the third round stage.
Hopes of a repeat of that duel failed to materialise, though, in a match that only briefly caught fire on a dull day.
Neither player would elect clay as their favourite surface but it was Keys who was first to find some rhythm.
Osaka double-faulted to drop her opening service game and she was broken for a second time as Keys charged through the opening set in 30 minutes.
With Court Suzanne Lenglen still half empty, Keys established a 3-1 lead in the second set before Osaka finally began to land some telling blows with her punchy groundstrokes.
Osaka broke back but the mini-revival seemed to have petered out when another double fault allowed Keys to serve for the match at 5-4, only for Keys to tighten up and drop serve.
Keys trailed 4-1 in the tie break and had to save two set points, the first with some terrific back court defence and the second with a booming serve before another Osaka double fault ended a contest that had just begun to get interesting.
With a style that generates easy power and a potent serve, Keys will move into the second half of the tournament as a dangerous floater in a wide-open draw.
“I’ve had good results on clay. I think it’s more my own mentality. I feel like a lot of times I get too passive or too aggressive, and it’s finding that middle ground,” she said.
“Having some good wins means I’m figuring it out a little bit more every time I’m on the surface.”
Osaka, who rocketed up the rankings this year after a spectacular title run at Indian Wells, even managed a rueful smile towards her coach as she faced match point and was not too downhearted after defeat.
“I just thought to myself that, even if I lose, I don’t want to have any regrets or anything, and I want to try to keep fighting until the last point,” she said.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge