Keys keen to avoid return to 'dark pit of despair'

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Aug 30, 2021; Flushing, NY, USA; Madison Keys of the USA hits to Sloan Stephens of the USA (not pictured) on day one of the 2021 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

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MELBOURNE, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Madison Keys is cautiously optimistic she has found a way out of the "deep, dark pit of despair" which stalled her career, as the former Flushing Meadows finalist heads into the Australian Open in confident mood after winning in Adelaide on Saturday.

American Keys will take on 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin in the first round at Melbourne Park after her straight-sets win over Alison Riske delivered the 26-year-old her first title since 2019 at the Adelaide International 2 warm-up event.

Keys, who rose to seventh in the world rankings in 2016, said she would look to bring elements of her performances in Adelaide into her match against Kenin.

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"I think the biggest thing that I'm going to do is just remind myself what I was thinking and what I was focusing on this week, continuing to do that," she said on Saturday.

"Obviously that's easier said than done.

"Just knowing from what I was thinking about last year and the deep, dark pit of despair that I put myself into because of that, I don't want to go back to that.

"I don't want to let myself borderline hate being on the tennis court and hate competing. If I let myself think that way, that's where it goes."

Keys won her first Tour title at Eastbourne as a 19-year-old in 2014 and reached the Australian Open semi-finals a year later. She progressed to the U.S. Open final in 2017 but lost an all-American match-up against Sloane Stephens.

She said the pressure to stay in the upper echelons of the sport eventually took its toll and she would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about defending rankings points.

She continues to fight to keep her thoughts in check.

"I just had to talk myself off of the ledge of it doesn't really matter," said Keys, who jumped 36 places in the rankings to 51st after her win in Adelaide.

"All that really matters is going out the next day and competing the best that you can.

"It's definitely something that I'm having to actively almost fight myself against. But I just know for my mental well-being that's what I have to do."

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Reporting by Michael Church, Editing by Peter Rutherford

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