Madison Keys shows star power
LONDON -- If celebrity endorsements count for anything, Madison Keys is well on her way to a successful career.
"She definitely has the weapons to be top-five. She has the weapons to be No. 1," Chrissie Evert said of the 18-year-old American who will play her second third-round match in a Grand Slam tournament this year when she takes on No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska at Wimbledon on Saturday.
"I can almost say she almost matches Serena [Williams'] serve as far as power," Evert said. "Out of all the players out there, she comes the closest to Serena's serve. The power off both sides is tremendous for someone that young."
Williams, who drew criticism this year from 20-year-old American Sloane Stephens for her apparent lack of friendship (both say they're fine now), also heaped praise on Keys, one of three teenagers in the Wimbledon women's draw to break through to the third round.
"Well, I think she's a wonderful girl," Williams said. "She's a beautiful girl. I love seeing a young American girl doing so well. And she's so talented. I really am completely impressed by her game."
Keys, who idolizes Michael Jordan and Williams, not necessarily in that order, is equally impressed by the five-time Wimbledon champ.
"I think she's amazing," Keys said. "It's amazing how she's just, you know, completely dominating. I like how she continues to go for her shots. She always goes for it. She always just plays her game. She's an extremely confident person, and I also think she fights very, very hard, which, you know, I think everyone tries to emulate.
"Hopefully one day it would be great to be able to be like her."
Performing well here would appear to be a natural with Keys' power game, but she still remembers her first grass-court experience, at the Maureen Connolly Challenge Trophy in Eastbourne as a 16-year-old two years ago.
"I think the first time I hit, I just completely wiped out," she said. "It was different. It's just a completely different surface than anything you're ever really expecting.
"But I actually really liked it, which was kind of surprising."
Just as surprising has been Keys' rise since then, reaching the second round of the 2011 and '12 U.S. Opens, the third round of this year's Australian, the second round at the French and the quarterfinals at Charleston, where she lost to Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-4, and at Birmingham, a pre-Wimbledon warm-up.
But Keys' most impressive result was a straight-sets victory over No. 5-ranked Li Na in Madrid in May. Ranked 52nd going into Wimbledon, she is guaranteed to break into the top 50.
"What remains to be seen is mentally how focused she is, how hungry she is for success," Evert said. Keys said her main goal is to walk off the court after each match happy with how she played, regardless of whether she won or lost.
Keys lost to Saturday's opponent, Radwanska, 6-1, 6-1 in Miami in March 2012 in their only other meeting, in which she admitted to being nervous.
"Yes, that was a frustrating day," Keys said. "In the second set, I was just happy to not get bageled. I'm definitely going to try to do better this time."
Keys said she is feeling more and more comfortable on tour, which is helped along by the support of fellow American up-and-comers, as well as veterans such as Rennae Stubbs, Lisa Raymond and of course Williams.
"We mostly don't talk about tennis, honestly," Keys said of Williams. "The other day we talked about her nails, so "
"If you've seen her nails, they're very cool this tournament," Keys said. "I actually kind of want to learn how to do it."