CHARLESTON, S.C.—No. 20 Madison Keys advanced to her second clay semifinal on Friday, defeating fellow American Lauren Davis 6-2, 6-2 at the Family Circle Cup where she will play surprise semifinalist Lucie Hradecka. The 29-year-old Czech, ranked No. 110, pulled off the upset over No. 4 seed Sara Errani 6-2, 6-4 to make her first tour-level semifinal since May 2013.
In the bottom half of the draw, defending champion Andrea Petkovic rallied from a set and a break down to defeat qualifier Danka Kovinic 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to advance to the semifinals. She will play either Angelique Kerber or Irina-Camelia Begu.
Keys came into Charleston having won just one match since her breakout run to the semifinals at the Australian Open, where she reaggravated an upper leg injury that hampered her preparation for the two Premier mandatory tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. Keys has lost just nine games in three matches with better preparation for the green clay, and has yet to be broken this week with her vaunted serve back online. She has saved all six break points she's faced.
"It's not the easiest game for me, being on clay, but so far it's been a pretty good transition, and just working on it more and more every year," she said. "So you know, just feeling more comfortable on it."
Keys has never been shy about clay being her worst surface, but the block may be more mental than technical. In her first WTA main draw match on red clay two years ago, she routed French Open champion Li Na at the Madrid Open. Her first WTA semifinal came last year in Strasbourg on clay. Holding serve is a premium skill on the surface and her serve, which was clocked as high as 122 mph this week, can give her free points. The power she generates off the ground on both wings can penetrate slow courts.
The most important thing for Keys on this surface is to remain patient and to play smart, two things she admits she struggles with on any surface. "It does slow the ball down, so my serve is not as effective and power isn't always as effective," she said. "So definitely having to put some more height on the ball, and kind of rally a little bit more before I can pull the trigger. But at the same time it's still the basic, set up the point, when you have it, go for it. So it's an added two, three balls, but pretty much the same game plan."
"You don't have to change your game to play on clay," Keys said before the tournament. "You have to play smarter, you have to play a little more patient, but it's not like it's rocket science all of a sudden. If you just play your game and tweak little things here and there it's not like it's a completely different game.
[daily_cut.tennis]While Keys may feel well-rested and has moved through the draw easily, Petkovic is fighting through the physical and mental fatigue coming off a long two weeks in Miami, where she made the semifinals. Two of her three matches this week have gone the distance and she's also into the doubles semifinals with Marina Erakovic. She was completely outplayed in the first set by Kovinic, a 20-year-old qualifier gifted with a massive serve and powerful groundstrokes. She was able to get the frustration out of her system with a few hearty racket throws, which she joked would earn a grounding at the hands of her parents, who are in Charleston for the week.
"There are just off days, and today was definitely my off day," Petkovic said. "When I felt my emotions were setting in and I was getting really frustrated and angry and very stressed, I felt that was the tiredness and the fatigue."
"And so in the beginning of the second set I just told myself, okay, Andrea, you will play point-by-point. If you lose, that's okay, but please don't embarrass yourself with racket throwing and tantrum throwing. So that's what I really focused on, and she gave me a few presents in the beginning of the second set, and that's when I started believing I could win this match. I sort of got my claws into it."
Petkovic can take solace in knowing she's undefeated in Charleston, having won all 11 of her matches at this tournament. A win on Saturday would also put her back in the top 10. If she's looking for a moment to catch her breath after a strong start to the season, it won't come soon. After Charleston she'll head to Sochi, Russia for Germany's Fed Cup semifinal against a Russian team that includes Maria Sharapova, and then immediately back to Germany the following week for the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart.
Saturday's semifinals begin at 1 p.m. ET with Keys facing Hradecka.