U.S. Open Loss Behind Her, Madison Keys Accentuates the Positive

Keys, seeded 17th in the Australian Open, will face 44th-ranked Wang Qiang of China in the first round.

High hopes are not new to Keys’s career, which quickly accelerated from a fashion choice to a career choice.

Spotting the 1999 Wimbledon tournament on a television in her parents’ bedroom, a 4-year-old Madison decided she wanted the dress Venus Williams was wearing.

“It was a cutout dress, very racy, and it showed her back,” her mother, Christine Keys, recalled. “She was just walking through and she goes, ‘Oh, can I get one of those dresses?’ I said, ‘Well, you have to play that sport.’ She said, ‘Oh, O.K.! Let’s do that!’ Two weeks later, she goes: ‘Hey, when am I going to get that dress? And the stick?’”

Her chance introduction to the sport revealed thunderous talent. After moving from Rock Island to Florida to train at the Evert Tennis Academy, Keys quickly attracted hype.

“At 12 they said she was going to win a Slam by the time she was 18,” Christine Keys said. “How unfair is that?”

Photo

Christine Keys, Madison’s mother, said a tennis dress worn by Venus Williams drew her daughter to the sport at age 4.

Credit
Mary Mathis for The New York Times

Instead, her career has progressed steadily. Keys turned professional on her 14th birthday and broke into the top 100 just before her 17th. She first cracked the top 10 in the summer of 2016 at age 20, becoming the first American woman to make her top 10 debut since Serena Williams in 1999.

While Keys lacked a traditional high school experience, she said her adolescence was hardly short of the tension many girls experience, with the added factors of competing for titles and sponsors.

“It was constant, being compared to other girls,” she said. “It still does happen; we still have a number next to our name. You kind of have to dissociate…

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