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Future bright, Keys eyes breakthrough at Australian Open

January 13, 2013 12:19 PM
Madison Keys, 17, is off to a promising start in her career, and in 2013.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
MELBOURNE, Australia —The common wisdom on the circuit these days is that players are peaking later rather than earlier, largely due to the increased physicality of the game. The last teenage girl to win a major was Svetlana Kuznetsova at the 2004 US Open, which is going on nine years ago.
While it’s too early to tell whether 17-year-old Madison Keys of the United States will reach such lofty heights at an early age, she is certainly off to a promising start—to both her career and the 2013 season. She won five matches at the Sydney International and posted upsets over No. 17 Lucie Safarova and former Australian Open semifinalist Zheng Jie before falling to 2011 Roland Garros champion Li Na, 4-6 7-6 (2) 6-2, in a very competitive quarterfinal.
Li described herself as a little shocked at the extent of Keys’ power at the outset and had to play a near prefect tie-break and rock-solid third set to outlast the Boca Raton, Fla., resident. 
"I was shaking a little bit at beginning of the match because I never play against her," Li said. "I got the information she has a big serve, but I think not like today, like 180, 190 [kilometers per hour, which is 111-118 miles per hour]. She has huge, big serve … [and] she's pretty, pretty good. I mean, if she plays level like this every match, she should be soon Top 20, Top 15, Top 10."
After losing in the second round of qualifying at the 2012 US Open, Keys went on a serious roll on the Challenger circuit. She won a $50,000 event in Saguenay, Canada, defeating Wimbledon junior Champion Eugenie Bouchard in the final; reached the semis of the $50,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in New Braunfels, Texas, where she fell to Melanie Oudin; and then won the $75,000 USTA Pro Circuit event in Phoenix to end the season.
"I’m understanding my game so much better now," Keys said. "I feel better about my fitness so I’m not rushing through points. I feel like I can stay out there a lot longer. I’m grasping how I want to play and just doing it. I feel like I’ve always been pretty fast if I have to run straight ahead for a ball, it’s more the moving side to side and getting up to balls and moving back that I needed to improve." 
Keys already has one of the biggest forehands on the WTA, she’s aggressive with her returns, can drive a backhand down the line and, as Li said, her first serve is already scary and will likely get better as she naturally grows stronger. And while Keys is still a bit of grip-and-rip player, she can mix in a one-handed backhand slice and is showing a commitment to defense when she isn’t immediately controlling points.
"I want to work points, play heavier, look to change the pace, coming in a little more and to be able to move really well helps a lot," said the young woman who always seems to have a smile on her face.
Keys didn’t have much of break as after she won Phoenix, she headed home for five days, but by Day 3 she wanted back on court. So she went back to her base, the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton. There she worked with Strength & Conditioning Specialist Gabriel Echevarria, Head of Women’s Tennis Ola Malmqvist and coach Juan Todero. 
The Illinois native wasn't the only up-and-coming young woman to spend her December in Boca, as Jamie Hampton, Grace Min and Shelby Rogers also worked out there. They played practice matches against each other and against a group of Canadians—work that paid for Keys later that month, when she won an eight-woman USTA playoff to earn a main draw wild card into the 2013 Australian Open.
"We all felt like we trained and worked hard in the offseason, and we were all looking forward to the beginning of the year," Keys said.
Keys, who is set to climb to No. 105 in the rankings on Monday, opens her Australian Open against Aussie veteran Casey Dellacqua and could face 30th seed Tamira Paszek in the second round. If she gets past those two, she might face world No. 5 Angelique Kerber in round three. 
Then more of the world will get a glimpse of how good she already is.
"The last couple of months have given me a confidence boost and if I play my game, work hard and do my fitness I can definitely be competitive with the top players, so it’s exciting," Keys said. "I really feel if I play the right way I can be competitive."
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For more coverage of American players at the 2013 Australian Open, see:


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