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Tough day shows promise of things to come

January 18, 2013 11:03 AM
Madison Keys should see her ranking rise to a new career high following her impressive performance at the Australian Open.
Sam Querrey plans to make a few tweaks to his game but otherwise feels his tennis is on the upswing.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
MELBOURNE—There will be better days for the United States than Friday at the Australian Open, when one of its veteran stars, its highest-seeded man and one of its most promising youngsters all went down.
It began on the tournament’s center court, Rod Laver Arena, when fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber wore down 17-year-old American Madison Keys in the third round. Keys had a terrific start to the year, better than anyone her age in the pro ranks, upsetting Lucie Safarova and Zheng Jie in Sydney and nearly taking down No. 6 Li Na there, as well. Then in Melbourne, she faced down home favorite Casey Dellacqua and 30th seed Tamira Paszek before falling to Kerber, 6-2, 7-5.
And while Keys is remarkably composed for her age, trying to hit through a defensive wall like Kerber can sometimes seem an impossible task. Keys is a big hitter who appears fearless, but it's a rare day that someone her age can walk out in front of 15,000 people and not feel the significance of the occasion.
"I had a slow start, I was super nervous, my serve wasn't there until the very end," said Keys, who committed 43 unforced errors in the match. "I wasn't moving well. In the second set I played better, there were close games, but I made dumb decisions and played tight. I think it was nerves, inexperience and knowing how to deal with the situation, and she’s No. 5 five in world for a reason."
Keys added that she almost psyched herself out because she thought she had to play better than she really had to, something her USTA coaches have been working on with her. Even though she has concentrated on letting the match come to her, instilling that type of mentality can only come with experience—experience she is sure to get more of when she turns 18 next month and begins to play a full pro schedule.
"I got really nervous," said Keys, who will be ranked somewhere in the low to mid-80s when the tournament ends, a career high. "I was going for too much and was pressing instead of working points. I am disappointed, but I had a really good two weeks, and I’m sure tomorrow I will be happy, but right now it kind of [stinks]."
Sam Querrey, who lost to 15th seed Stanislas Wawrinka, 7-6 (6), 7-5, 6-4, in the third round, wasn’t as harsh in his self-assessment. The 20th seed felt the match came down to a couple of points here or there, and while he would have loved to make the second week, he still feels like he’s on the upswing.
It’s likely he will get the call to play Davis Cup against Brazil in Jacksonville, Fla., in two weeks. Until then, it’s back to work for the ascending Californian.
"I’ll just take a couple of things to tweak in my game and then try to make runs at Indian Wells and Miami," Querrey said.
Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion, was seriously disappointed after the red-hot Maria Sharapova topped her, 6-3, 6-1. Had they met next week, the result might have been different, but Williams started slowly, while Sharapova was on the ball from the first toss. The Russian, who lives in the Los Angeles area, had targeted the contest from the day the draw came out and was focused all the way through. Williams—who has been battling an auto-immune disease but who ended 2012 with a bang by winning Luxembourg—played much better in the second set but got down an early break and couldn't stop Sharapova’s momentum.
Afterward, the 2008 Australian champion was all praise for her rival. The two have now played eight times, with Sharapova holding a 5-3 edge, but every match has featured delicious, hard-hitting rallies worthy of two champions.
"I was a really determined player out there because I knew the tennis that she's capable of producing and playing," Sharapova said. "Despite what she's ranked or seeded, it doesn't matter when you go out on the court. She's been there. She's experienced enough to know no matter if you're playing the third round, the quarters or the final, you have to be ready. I certainly was. Since the draw came out, I was really looking forward to that matchup."
As Sharapova said, they have played each other enough where there are no secrets as to strengths, weaknesses or strategies. The 25-year-old said that she even used to watch the 32-year-old Williams play on TV before she began her pro career.
"A lot of it is about executing from our own sides," she said. "I thought I did a good job of what I had in my head and what I wanted to accomplish out there today."
As Venus said, it was not her best day, but she has her life and career in perspective following her bout with Sjogren’s Syndrome, and she knows there are better days ahead as she continues to learn how best to manage the disease.
"I have to wait till the French Open to play another major in singles, but there will be a lot of tennis in between," she said.
Venus is not out of the tournament all together yet. She and her sister Serena are still in the doubles and are chasing their 14th Grand Slam doubles title and fifth Aussie Open crown. While raising doubles trophies doesn't hold the same significance to some other players as singles crowns, the tight-knit Williams sisters have always had a blast playing as a pair and consider their trophies together extremely meaningful.
The older Williams sister will press on.
"Regardless of my [singles] results, I want to be better, the best, the best that I can bring," Venus said.
To learn more about up-and-coming American players and everything else you need to know about America’s Grand Slam, click here to sign up for the exclusive US Open newsletter.
For more coverage of American players at the 2013 Australian Open, see:


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