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Volvo Car Open's new queen of the clay: Madison Keys

While the bigwigs and ballkids assembled on stadium court for the trophy presentation, Madison Keys pulled her cellphone from her tennis bag.

There were some important people she needed to update with the news of the day.

"Mom and boyfriend got the text messages," said a laughing Keys, who won the Volvo Car Open — and use of a new car, a Volvo S60 — on Sunday on Daniel Island. "My boyfriend was quick to be like, 'So, since you already have a car, can I have the Volvo?'"

Keys, 24 and seeded eighth, earned her first VCO title and the new car (she thinks she likes the blue-gray model) the hard way, beating three Grand Slam champions and an Olympic gold medalist en route, including No. 5 seed Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (5), 6-3 in Sunday's final.

It was a popular victory with the large crowd at stadium court, which included Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and S.C. Governor Henry McMaster. Keys' fourth WTA Tour singles title was worth $141,420 in prize money, boosting her career earnings to nearly $10.5 million.

And Tecklenburg presented her with the keys to Charleston.

"What does a key to the city do for me?" she said. 

She also gets her name on a trophy that includes greats such as Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Venus Williams and Serena Williams.

Keys has been coming to the Charleston tournament since she was 18. This was her seventh visit, and she said she's always felt the love from Charleston fans. On Saturday, two young girls presented her with good-luck cookies at her hotel.

"It means so much," she said. "I've always loved Charleston. It's always been one of my favorite tournaments. So now to be able to say that I've won the tournament and to be on that trophy is really, really special."

She's the 16th different winner in 16 tournaments on the WTA Tour this season and the ninth American woman to win the Volvo Car Open. It's her first title on clay and first overall since 2017 on hard courts at Stanford, and she beat her good buddy and 2016 VCO champ Sloane Stephens on the way to the title.

All of that was very unexpected for Keys, who reunited with coach Juan Todero about two weeks ago and was coming off early exits at Indian Wells and Miami.

"There were some very low moments, and I know that's crazy because it's only April," she said. "But that's tennis. There's highs and there's lows, and I was at a very low point."

Wozniacki, whose 30 career WTA titles includes the 2018 Australian Open, earned $75,120 for her runner-up finish in her sixth appearance in Charleston.

She was gracious in defeat, but Wozniacki, who will rise to No. 12 on the WTA Tour, did point out that the Charleston champion did not win use of a new car when it was known as the Family Circle Cup when she won back in 2011.

"Maybe I can borrow your car," Wozniacki told Keys in jest.

Volvo Car Open

Caroline Wozniacki returns a shot from Madison Keys during their championship match at the Volvo Car Open Sunday. Brad Nettles/Staff

The matchup was billed as Wozniacki's defense vs. Keys' power, but it also turned on a miscalculation on Wozniacki's part and a fortunate net cord for Keys, who will move to No 14 in the rankings.

"I don't think her power was the deciding thing," Wozniacki said of Keys, whom she had beaten in two previous meetings. "I think that's how she plays, and I knew exactly how she was going to play.

"On the important points, especially in the first set, she managed to basically win almost every one, and I had my chances. I had my opportunities, but I didn't take them."

Keys showed true grit in the first set, fighting off two break points in the eighth game to avoid a 5-3 lead for Wozniacki and eventually force a tiebreaker.

Volvo Car Open

Caroline Wozniacki returns a shot from Madison Keys during their championship match at the Volvo Car Open Sunday. Brad Nettles/Staff

In the tiebreaker, Wozniacki blinked first, making a crucial mistake to hand Keys three set points. The Dane let a Keys lob go instead of making a play on the ball, and the shot landed inside the baseline for a 6-3 lead for Keys.

Keys cashed in the third set point with a backhand winner down the line.

"I wouldn't have left (that shot) if I had known it was going in," Wozniacki said. "I was right there. So it wasn't like it was a very hard shot. But sometimes you miscalculate things, and I did that in a bad moment."

Said Keys, "Honestly, I thought (that shot) was going out. So I was just kind of waiting for a call to happen, and when it didn't, I was really relieved."

Keys got another break in the second set at break point in the sixth game, when her forehand hit the tape and fell over the net with Wozniacki back at the baseline. That put Keys up 4-2, and she consolidated the break by holding at love for 5-2.

For Wozniacki, who was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis last year and has battled viral illness, the week bodes well for the rest of the year. She'll take more with her from Charleston than the souvenir cups inscribed with "Charleston" that she bought Saturday.

"I can take a lot from it," she said. "I think I can take my movement, my play. I think I've been playing really well all week. So there's a lot of positives that I can take away from this week."


• The Volvo Car Open drew a total of 93,607 fans for the tournament this year, including 2,319 for Saturday night's exhibition with men's stars.

• Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Alicja Rosolska won the doubles title with a 7-6 (6), 6-2 win over Irina Khromacheva and Veronika Kudermetova.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC

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