That’s a curious story title, right? “Madison Keys is standing there” in the Charleston semifinals.
Why not simply say, “Madison Keys is standing”, or “standing tall,” or “standing strong”?
Standing there — it’s odd. It’s unusual.
I will explain.
In Looney Tunes cartoons and other forms of comedic popular entertainment in America, the words, “Well don’t just stand there, DO SOMETHING!” echo through my mind. I can’t pinpoint exact episodes of cartoons or sitcoms in which those words were uttered, but I certainly remember the words themselves. The misunderstandings between two characters led to that angry outburst by one of the characters. Placed in context, it could be funny. At the very least, it represented an easy way to move along the plot of the program.
One or two times — I THINK it was Sylvester the Cat, but I am not 100 percent sure — that exhortation to not just stand there, but do something, was turned upside down.
“Well don’t just do something; STAND THERE!”
This was an inversion akin to Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny yelling “RABBIT SEASON!” and “DUCK SEASON!” at each other in front of Elmer Fudd, who had a shotgun and wanted to know which character to shoot. Bugs Bunny famously switched from yelling “DUCK SEASON!” to “RABBIT SEASON!” because he knew that Daffy, in his desire to always contradict what Bugs said, would then also shift to saying “DUCK SEASON!” instead of “RABBIT SEASON!”
Bugs Bunny tricked Daffy into saying “DUCK SEASON!” and then simply acknowledged to Elmer Fudd that it WAS duck season, giving Elmer permission to shoot Daffy. Elmer did. Daffy was furious (because of course, Looney Tunes characters never die, they just move to the next episode).
Wait, this is supposed to be about a tennis player, not a cartoon.
All of the above applies — or at least, will hopefully apply — to Madison Keys, if she is lucky.
If Madison Keys has a good 2019 season and gains momentum in the coming months, she might look back on Friday’s Charleston quarterfinal win over Sloane Stephens.
Keys beat her good friend Sloane in three sets, her first win over Stephens.
It was not an elegant win. It was not an emotionally smooth win — both players were exasperated with themselves and their inconsistency throughout the match, a natural and understandable product of two seasons which have not yet gotten off the ground. Keys and Stephens both came to Charleston immersed in prolonged slumps. They have both recently changed coaches. They are both trying to ignite a revival before they arrive at Roland Garros, where they will both defend semifinal-or-better point totals.
Keys and Stephens knew that they wouldn’t fix all their problems at this tournament. They would need to make improvements and initiate a building process which will need to be affirmed and improve at more important tournaments later this year. The loser would not suffer a disaster and the winner would not become completely transformed, but this match did give both players a chance to take one step forward. No one can move closer to a destination or goal without taking a first step.
That’s what this match was.
Yet, paradoxically, in order to take a step, Keys had to not do anything.
She had to stand there.
She had to stand in the arena, focus on the next shot, and try to develop the patient, resilient style of tennis which — when she finds it — makes Keys an extremely tough player to beat.
Look at this stat via Ed Salmon:
Winners/unforced errors by set:
Sloane 10/8, 4/5, 6/7
Madi 17/18, 11/15, 6/2
— Ed Salmon (@fogmount) April 5, 2019
The big-hitting Keys sprayed the ball all over the court in sets one and two, but in set three, she decided to play patient tennis. The winner count went down along with the errors, but the dedication to percentage tennis created a plus-13 improvement in unforced error reduction (15 to 2 from set two) while the winners decreased by only five. That’s a plus-8 jump in winner-UFE differential — minus-4 in set two, plus-4 in set three — which will win matches IF the opponent is not playing particularly well.
Stephens was not playing particularly well.
Keys’ focus on not doing something, but STANDING THERE, won her the match.
This is a great lesson for Keys to learn. She doesn’t have to become Angelique Kerber, but she does have to remember that she can stay on the court at times and win 16-shot rallies. That’s not her Plan A, but if she is misfiring, she needs to be able to go to that Plan B more readily.
She did on Friday. Not doing something, and simply standing there, is something she can take with herself in the coming months.