A country rich in tennis tradition, the United States is always on the lookout for their future star.
In this 2013 installment of the Australian summer of tennis, culminating with the first Grand Slam action of the season, 17-year-old Madison Keys is the player showing up on every American tennis radar. Soaring as hot as the temperatures have risen in Australia in recent weeks, the hope is that Keys’ recent results is a full proof sign that she’s beginning to realise her potential.
Former Australian Open champion Lindsay Davenport is certainly taking notice and tweeted on Wednesday that Keys is the best young talent she’s seen since Serena Williams, to which Keys reacted, “It makes me happy”.
Keys has now journeyed to the Australian Open third round after a stunning 6-2 6-1 second round upset of 30th-seeded Tamira Paszek of Austria. In the first round, Keys posted a straight-sets win over Australian Casey Dellacqua, much to the disappointment of Australian Open fans.
“I thought I played pretty well; happy with how the day went,” said the 105th-ranked Keys after the match. “I feel more prepared for this one (Grand Slam tournament). My first US Open main draw, it was a big stadium and I wasn’t really used to it. But I feel good about this one so far.”
Blessed with a power-packed serve, a heavy forehand, and an aggressive nature, Keys has recently incorporated more variety and a capable defense into her game. Paszek admitted she didn’t know much about Keys prior to the match, but that it was easy to be impressed with the player she faced.
“It’s tough to explain what happened out there because everything happened so quickly,” Paszek said. “She was on a roll. She played big. I had some problems with my left hamstring from my match before, which affected me. I was late for everything and didn’t move the way I usually do.
“She played really well and she’s definitely a strong up-and-coming player.”
Keys saved all three break points she presented to Paszek and capably broke serve on four of seven break point opportunities on the Austrian’s serve. The American posted 23 winners to only six for Paszek, and she closed out the 56-minute match with her sixth ace.
Keys showed off her more polished style at the Apia International tournament in Sydney last week where she won five consecutive matches – three in qualifying – to reach the quarter-finals. She lost to former French Open champion Li Na 4-6 7-6(2) 6-2, but scored her first two top-50 wins by beating 17th-ranked Lucie Safarova and 42nd-ranked Zheng Jie.
Back in the US they’ve been chatting about Keys being an up-and-coming talent from the moment she moved from Illinois and touched down at Chris Evert’s Academy in Boca Raton, Fla., as a pre-teen.
Her start in the game was rather inauspicious. Unlike many players out here who were delivered to the game by their parents, the reverse is true in Keys’ case. She was a four-year-old with an eye for fashion when the next thing you know she was delighting in hitting ball after ball.
“The outfits,” said Keys, when asked what caught her interest in tennis. “I really wanted a tennis dress. My parents told me that if I played they would buy me one. I was like, ‘Hey, I’ll try it”.
Tennis isn’t by any means a family game in the Keys’ household, it’s just Madison’s passion. Her parents are both attorneys and divide their time taking turns watching over their three daughters who live in Florida, and maintaining their professional lives back in Illinois.
While the Evert relationship continues on a personal level, Keys made the decision about two years ago to start working at the USTA National Training Center in Boca Raton. The move delivered a change of coaching and fitness training technique, but not a change of scenery as the Evert Academy and USTA share the same venue.
Keys began her upward mobility this fall. She played in three lower level pro events, winning the $50,000 Saguenay, Canada title and the $75,000 USTA Pro Circuit Phoenix event, the latter without dropping a set. Sandwiched between those two events, Keys reached the semifinals of the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in New Braunfels, Texas.
And for the second consecutive year, Keys earned a wildcard into the Australian Open via an elite eight-player USTA playoff tournament that was held in Atlanta, GA., in December.
“(I) worked really hard this off-season,” Keys said. “Think I’m in pretty good shape. Working with a new coach (Juan Todera). It’s been going really well. Hopefully I can keep it up.”
But it’s not all about tennis for Keys while she’s here in Australia. She’s spending her time off-court studying algebra in the hopes of graduating high school this spring. But the further she goes in the draw -- her next opponent is fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber – the more likely it is that algebra will have to take a backseat.