Madison Keys has rumbled all the way to the quarterfinals of a major for the first time – and she’ll meet the player who inspired her to take up tennis in the first place.
By Alix Ramsay | Wednesday, 28 January, 2015 — www.ausopen.com
It cannot be easy growing up as a tennis player in America. For years, the search has been on to find the next budding superstars who will grow up to fill the shoes of Serena and Venus Williams. Then again, given that both Williams siblings are still going strong, there does not seem to be much pressure of time in this quest.
For a while there, it looked as if Sloane Stephens was going to the one to do it. When she beat an injured Serena to reach the semifinals at the Australian Open a couple of years ago, America sat up took notice. Maybe she was ready kick on and become a regular at the sharp end of the big events. Alas, no. She crashed and burned here in the first round this year, clobbered by Victoria Azarenka.
At the time, Madison Keys was doing her stuff as 17-year old, making promising runs at tournaments here and there and then taking her clumpings from the big names when she bumped into them in the draw. She had begun her career as a 14-year-old, winning her opening match on the WTA tour – the youngest winning debutante since Martina Hingis – but building up a level of consistency was always going to take a little time.
Still, here she is in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open with a shot at taking out the great Venus. And if she does, it will be all Venus’s fault.
It was Venus who got Madison into tennis in the first place. Not her tennis, you understand, but her frock. Madison liked what Venus was wearing and, there and then, she decided she wanted to be a tennis player. She was about four at the time (she was only two when Venus reached her first US Open final in 1997), but her mind was made up.
Tennis federations around the world have spent millions of dollars and countless man hours in talent identification and player development as they all try to find the next generation of champions, but they were all barking up a gum tree. You don’t need camps and promotions and gimmicks to get the kids playing tennis, you just need a heap of nice togs. Hey kid – want a frock like this? Well, pick a bat like this and that wardrobe could be yours …
“She started watching me when she was in diapers,” Venus giggled when she heard how she had inspired her quarterfinal opponent. Madison, meanwhile, just giggled anyway. She was utterly gobsmacked when she beat Madison Brengle to get to the last eight of a major championship for the first time in her career. She was utterly speechless during her on-court interview afterwards – it made the conversation a little one-sided – and she has been as happy as a clam ever since.
No matter, she has good people around her. She started working with Lindsay Davenport last November and already there are signs that the former world No.1 is making an impression. Madison’s serve and forehand have always been shots to fear, but it was the business of keeping a level head from first ball to last that was causing the problems. That is where Davenport’s advice will prove invaluable.
“I think with Lindsay, it’s been a big thing for my confidence, knowing that I can do well, play well,” our Madison said. “So for that, going into matches knowing I have a chance in every match has definitely helped me, has definitely helped me get through this tournament.
“I’m just really excited. I think it’s a huge opportunity for me. I haven’t been in this situation before. I’m going to make the most of it. But at the same time no matter what, I’m not really going to be satisfied with any win. I want to be at the end of the tournament holding the trophy up. That’s my goal in the long run. So I am very happy that I’m in the quarterfinals. I’m really just looking forward to the next match.”
Like her young charge, Davenport had thundering power at her disposal but in her pomp, she never wavered. Hingis kept finding Davenport standing across the net from her in finals (the American led their career head-to-head 14 -11) and used to sigh “she just never makes any mistakes”. If Davenport can instill that sort of consistency in young Madison, America may have found its next serial champion.