By Sandra Harwitt
There’s much concern in the USA as to who will take over when the Williams sisters depart the game. Although playing some incredible tennis, it’s hard to deny that Venus and Serena can be considered in their mid-30s now, so preparing for the future doesn’t seem like overreaction.
The good news is there’s a number of talented younger Americans for fans to focus in on: Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens, Lauren Davis, Madison Brengle, Taylor Townsend are among the names that stand out.
When I look at that crop of up-and-coming American players the name Madison Keys is currently coming to the forefront. Bottom line: Keys has a lot of upside. She has a serve, she has power strokes, she has good court coverage and she seems to have a real joy for the game. That joy stems from the fact that she found tennis – she watched Venus Williams as a four-year-old, liked the dress Venus was wearing at that particular Wimbledon, asked her parents for one, and they responded yes if she was going to play tennis.
The rest is history. Keys took to the game immediately and powered her way through a childhood filled with tennis. Interesting, Keys was one of a number of key players on the WTA Tour that received the base of their developmental training at the Evert Tennis Academy in Boca Raton, Fla. – the others are Lauren Davis, Anna Tatishvili, Peng Shuai, Bethanie Mattek- Sands, Ajla Tomljanovic, and Megan Moulton-Levy.
The 19-year-old Keys has shown great promise since joining the pro tour, but it was evident she was lacking in receiving direction from the right voice, someone with experience in the big-time.
Enter Lindsay Davenport – stage right.
Keys recently decided she was ready for her own team and Davenport, a three-time Grand Slam champion, was meant to be an interim offseason coach until Keys’ manager, Max Eisenbud, could line up a full-time person. Turned out that Davenport liked Keys and the coaching, her hubby Jon Leach, a former junior and collegiate talent enjoyed it too, so they’ve signed on for full-time, for the moment at least. Considering the couple have four kids it will be interesting to see how they work out blending their responsibilities.
Davenport was the perfect choice. There never was any question that she would deliver the message Keys needs to move to that next level. And she really moved on up in the Australian Open fourth round when she upset defending Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-4, 7-5, who actually owns two Wimbledon titles. Now the No. 35 ranked Keys is into her first career Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“Obviously this is my first time in the second week of a Grand Slam,” Keys said after the match. “I feel good about it. I feel like I’ve made a lot of improvements. You know, all that. But at the same time it’s one of those things where I want more. I want to keep doing better. So I’m not really getting ahead of myself and letting myself get too excited over this. I’m just treating it like another win. You know, I’ll have a practice again tomorrow to get ready for the next round.”
Next up for Keys is the Battle of the Madisons – she’ll face another quarterfinal surprise in fellow American Madison Brengle.
There was a little humor when Keys was asked what Davenport told her pre-match and post-match. Here’s Keys’ reply: “She was just telling me she has a great serve, so try to make her play as many balls as possible. Then after the match she was telling me she got pooped on by a bird. I saw a video of it. Yeah, that was pretty much all we talked about after the match so far.”
FYI Madison: Bird pooping on a person is a sign of good luck.