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Beyond the Baseline

Madison Keys talks road life, 'torture' of losing, proper grammar, tidy closets

Madison Keys Madison Keys is one of seven U.S. women ranked in the top 50. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

Madison Keys defeated Julia Goerges 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 on Thursday to reach the semifinals of the Strasbourg International. This is the second semifinal of the year for the 19-year-old American, who also made the final four at the Sydney International.

Keys, of Boca Raton, Fla., broke through last year when she jumped from No. 137 to a career-high No. 36 in October, and she finished the season as the second-youngest player in the top 100. This year she's compiled a 16-11 record, including victories over then-No. 11 Simona Halep (who is currently fourth) and No. 21 Alize Cornet. Keys, ranked 44th, is preparing for her second French Open, where she advanced to the second round last year.

Last week at the Italian Open, Keys sat down with SI.com for a wide-ranging interview in which she discussed her superstitions, post-loss rituals, texting pet peeves and the 3 a.m. decision that changed her life and led to razzing from her friends.

SI.com: You're here in Europe for nine and a half weeks. How do you prepare for such a long trip, where you're living out of suitcases and jumping from hotel room to hotel room?

Keys: I told my mom right before I left, "Please come for a week. I can't be there for nine and a half weeks by myself." She's going to come for a week so that will help break up the trip. I did the same thing last year. I stayed for nine and a half weeks, but I had my friend with me. At the end of Wimbledon I was like, "Dang it, I lost," but then the next morning I woke up and I was like, "Yes! I get to go home!"

SI.com: What's the toughest thing about being on the road so long?

Keys: You miss the little things about home. I miss my couch. I'm obsessed with my couch. I have the greenest couch on the planet. All my friends come over and they're like, "I want to steal this." But I definitely think it's the hotel after hotel after hotel. It's looking at my clothes and being like, "I've had all of these for nine weeks, I can't change anything, I can't go into my closet and pull something out.

SI.com: Are you superstitious?

Keys: My nails. If you see me toward the end of a tournament, my nails look disgusting because I refuse to redo them.

SI.com: So they're like a playoff beard?

Keys: Yes. I do them the night before I play and then they stay on until the end of the tournament.

SI.com: Do you have a post-loss ritual?

Keys: Oh, God. I don't know if I should tell you [laughs]. For the most part, I've gotten a lot better and I don't go into my room and hide for four days.

SI.com: That's really good to hear.

Keys: I know. I'm getting better. It's only a day and a half now. No, you do your cool-down, your stretching and all of that. Then you go talk to your coach to hear what you did wrong. That's always a fun conversation. After that, I usually like to have a couple of hours to myself. Then a lot of times, I'll go sight-seeing. I'll go do something unrelated to tennis just so I don't sit in my room and replay the match over and over in my head and think, Oh, I should have gone cross-court, then I should have done this, I should have done that. Because I've done that before. It's torture.

SI.com: I hate to ask you, but what's the loss that's tortured you the most?

Keys: Oh, my gosh. Radwanska at Wimbledon last year [No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska beat Keys 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in the third round]. I can close my eyes and I'm back on that court. Why did I hit that backhand down the line?!?! Why! I should have gone cross court! Why!

SI.com: It's seared into your memory?

Keys: It will be there in 10 years.

Madison Keys Madison Keys poses with a fan during the Australian Open. (Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

SI.com: If you could improve your game physically, tactically or mentally right now, which would you choose?

Keys: Mentally. Hands down. Easiest question.

SI.com: What's your go-to order at Starbucks?

Keys: A non-fat iced vanilla latte.

SI.com: Have they ever gotten your name wrong?

Keys: Yes. The worst was M-A-D-D-I-S-S-O-N. You just added a lot of letters to a really simple name. I said Madison one time and he wrote Samantha. Close!

SI.com: What's a pop culture phenomenon you don't understand?

Keys: This whole thing with "swag" and "BAE" -- I don't get it. My sisters will text me now and I feel like an old lady. I have to Urban Dictionary words. What are you trying to say to me? Just type!

SI.com: Just slang in general or those particular words?

Keys: Just the slang, especially when texting. I'm one of those people who writes out words. All of my text messages? You can read them. Everyone would know what I'm trying to say. My sister will say "BTW." Do you mean "by the way"? Is that what you're trying to say?

SI.com: Maybe you really are an old lady.

Keys: I am an old lady. I have a color-coordinated closet. What can I say?

SI.com: Really?

Keys: One night I couldn't sleep at three in the morning and I thought, I'm going to color-coordinate my closet. And I did. There's a whole system. It goes from white to black and then all the colors in the middle. Then it goes by tank tops to T-shirts to long sleeves, and then it goes to the next color. Then it goes to sweaters the same way.

SI.com: I'm a little worried about you.

Keys: You don't even understand how nice it is when you're getting ready. It is a little bit anal. All of my friends come over and take pictures and make fun of me, but, hey, it works for me.

Madison Keys Madison Keys was part of Sports Illustrated's Where Will They Be? feature in 2009. (Al Tielemans/SI)

SI.com: I know you love Ellen DeGeneres. She basically broke Twitter with the Oscar selfie. If you could have six celebrities in your Internet-breaking selfie, who would they be?

Keys: Ryan Gosling, Zac Efron, Ellen, Dennis Quaid, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Obama.

SI.com: Dennis Quaid?

Keys: I love Dennis Quaid! I don't know why, but I've loved him forever.

SI.com: What's the most surprising thing about being a professional tennis player?

Keys: All these rumors that we hate each other and beat each other in the locker room is not true. We actually get along really well. We sit around in a circle and hold hands and sing Kumbaya all the time. Sometimes Beyonce, sometimes Rihanna. Depends on the mood.

SI.com: I'm going to name a bunch of players and I want you to give me one word to describe each of them. First up: Serena.

Keys: Amazing.

SI.com: Maria.

Keys: Powerful.

SI.com: Roger.

Keys: Classy.

SI.com: Rafa.

Keys: Intense.

SI.com: You.

Keys: Uh ... psychotic?
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