Getty Images

US tennis player Madison Keys, 21, feels both young and wise

Leave a comment

Madison Keys is ranked in the top 10 in the world, a Grand Slam semifinalist who just played for an Olympic bronze medal and has earned career prize money of well over $4 million.

She’s also only 21, much closer in age to her middle school days than to No. 1 Serena Williams, and the youngest woman in the top 20 by nearly a year-and-a-half.

This is where the American finds herself as she heads into next week’s U.S. Open: an established pro with the game to win major titles, yet competing in a sport in which many players now peak in their late 20s and even early 30s.

Patient and impatient at the same time about her tennis, Keys is also sorting out what she wants to accomplish off the court. She announced Wednesday that she will fund and host six summits for teens at schools around the world in 2017 in partnership with the organization FearlesslyGIRL.

“That’s such a tough time for any girl – I know it was a tough time for me,” Keys said in a recent phone interview.

“To sit down in a big group and talk to each other about it, you realize you’re not so alone,” she added. “It makes everything seem so much smaller and more manageable.”

Keys has two younger sisters and sees this in a way as just adding many more.

“It’s being able to relate to them on such a personal level,” she said, “but also knowing it does get better.”

For her, sports was always a part of that.

“When you’re 13 or 14, sometimes you wake up in a bad place,” she said. “You feel like everything’s out of your control. You don’t know what to do.

“The second I was on the tennis court, I had the structure I wanted. I was in complete control of what I was doing.”

Long considered one of the world’s most promising young players, Keys burst through to the semifinals of the 2015 Australian Open while still a teenager.

“All of a sudden, people say, `She’s a contender,”‘ Keys recalled. “It’s the next logical step: You made the semifinals, you should make a final. You make a final, you should win.

“Unfortunately, that’s not how it works.”

The rest of the year, she lost in her first or second match of a tournament nine times, though her results in the Grand Slams were better. And with her profile soaring, so did the harassment on social media.

“I could go through my Twitter account right now and there would be 10 horrible messages,” Keys said.

“All of a sudden,” she recalled, “I was getting all these messages that I was fat and ugly, and I wasn’t prepared for it.”

It took time for her to remind herself that the trolls were most likely gamblers who spewed vitriol because they were betting on a match. That realization was crucial.

“If you’re not in my immediate circle,” she said, “you’re not someone whose opinion I value.”

On the court, she needed to remind herself to trust the process and not obsess over individual wins and losses. In 2016, the upward trajectory has resumed. Keys has made three finals, winning her second WTA title, and is currently ranked a career-best ninth. At the Rio Games, she made it to the semifinals – then ran into two Grand Slam champions in a row in Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova, losing to both to miss out on a medal as their superiority showed.

Keys, who withdrew from this week’s Connecticut Open with a neck injury, is set to be seeded eighth when the U.S. Open starts Monday – a key number because it means she can’t meet Williams or Kerber until the quarterfinals at the earliest. She’s been eliminated in the round of 16 at her last four majors.

“We believe she’ll win a Grand Slam really soon,” said her agent at IMG, Max Eisenbud, who has also managed Maria Sharapova and Li Na.

At a time when seven of the top 20 players in the women’s rankings are in their 30s, the younger generation has finally started to push through in recent months. Garbine Muguruza, 22, won the French Open, then Monica Puig, also 22, was the surprise Olympic gold medalist.

“I want to get to that next step as quickly as I can,” Keys said. “If that’s three weeks, great. But if it’s three months, no problem, or even three years.”

Kerber beats Sharapova in 3rd round; Halep in long-haul win

AP Images
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Angelique Kerber is the only major winner remaining in the Australian Open women’s draw after ending Maria Sharapova’s comeback tour to Melbourne Park.

The 2016 champion routed Sharapova 6-1, 6-3 in the third-round match on Saturday night to extend her winning streak to 12 matches, including winning the Sydney International title last week.

Five-time major winner Sharapova was back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2016, when a failed test for meldonium led to a 15-month doping ban.

It was all over in one hour and four minutes, a vast contrast to top-ranked Simona Halep’s 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 win in three hours, 45 minutes over American Lauren Davis in the opening match on Rod Laver.

The third set took 2:22 and momentum swung. Halep wasted chances to serve for the match in the ninth, 11th and 15th games, then had to save three match points in the 22nd. There were 11 service breaks and two medical timeouts – for Davis to get treatment on both feet – before Halep converted on her first match point.

“I never played the third set so long, so I’m really happy I could stay and win it. I’m almost dead,” Halep said of the match which equaled Chanda Rubin’s win over Arantxa Shanchez Vicario in 1996 – also 48 games – for the Australian Open record in terms of most games.

“I just feel that my muscles are gone,” said Halep, who badly twisted her left ankle in the first round. “My ankle is, I don’t know how it is because I don’t feel it anymore! But … it was nice to win this match.”

Halep will play Naomi Osaka, who beat 18th-seeded Ashleigh Barty 6-4, 6-2 in a match that was moved from the center court to Margaret Court Arena because of the two long matches on Rod Laver.

No. 20 Barbora Strycova beat U.S. qualifier Bernarda Pera 6-2, 6-2, leaving U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys as the only American woman to reach the fourth round.

Keys advanced 6-3, 6-4 over Ana Bogdan and will next play No. 8 Caroline Garcia, who beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.

Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat No. 29 Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 in a match featuring just one service break.

On the men’s side, Hyeon Chung took out a Zverev for the second time this week. Chung beat fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev 5-7, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 six days after a win over No. 32 Mischa Zverev in the first round.

Another unexpected loss at a major had the highly-touted Zverev admitted he may have a problem.

“Definitely not physical, so… I have some figuring out to do, what happens to me in deciding moments in Grand Slam,” he said.

The 20-year-old Zverev has five titles on the elite tour but his fourth-round exit at Wimbledon last year remains his best run at a major.

Tomas Berdych ended 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro’s return to Melbourne Park for the first time since 2014 with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win.

Fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem beat Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 to set up a fourth-round match against Tennys Sandgren, who continued his career-best run by beating Maximilian Marterer 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (5).

Former world junior No. 1 Marton Fucsovics beat Nicolas Kicker 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 and No. 25 Fabio Fognini overcame Julien Benneteau 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.

—–

More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen

Top-seeded Halep survives marathon match

AP
Leave a comment

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Top-seeded Simona Halep served for the match four times before prevailing 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 over American Lauren Davis in a marathon match at Rod Laver Arena.

Halep saved three match points in the 22nd game of the third set at 0-40 and Davis saved five break points in the 23rd game in the 3 hour, 45-minute match. The final set took 2 hour, 22 minutes and Halep won on her first match point when Davis hit a forehand wide along the sideline.

Davis twice had medical timeouts in the final set to have blisters on both feet treated.

Halep will play the winner of Saturday’s later match between local hope Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.

In other women’s third-round matches, sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5 and No. 8 Caroline Garcia beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. Garcia will play Madison Keys in the fourth round.

 

More AP coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/AustralianOpen