June 1, 2018 / 11:30 AM / in 20 days

Tennis: Keys beats Osaka, now ready for trip into unknown

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.

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 1, 2018 Madison Keys of the U.S. celebrates after winning her third round match against Japan's Naomi Osaka REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

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.”

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 1, 2018 Madison Keys of the U.S. shakes hands with Japan's Naomi Osaka after winning their third round match REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

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 materialize, though, in a match that only briefly caught fire on a dull day.

Neither player would elect clay as their favorite 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.

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros, Paris, France - June 1, 2018 Madison Keys of the U.S. reacts during her third round match against Japan's Naomi Osaka REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

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 tiebreak and had to save two set points, the first with some terrific back court defense and the second with a booming serve before another Osaka double fault ended a contest that had just begun to get interesting.

DANGEROUS CHALLENGER

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

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