MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Madison Keys proved last year she will be ready when American trailblazer Serena Williams decides to hand over the baton.
In reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open, aged 19, the Florida-based big-hitter with one of the hardest forehands in the game had pundits lining up to say “told you so”.
A quarter-final showing at Wimbledon underlined her credentials, but as Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard illustrates, raised expectations can bring about a harsh fall.
Keys, though, does not just strike a mean ball, she is also developing the mental fortitude to grind out wins when things are not quite going to plan as that was evident when the 15th seed beat experienced Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova 6-7(4) 6-3 6-3 in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday.
“I had to kind of dig deep and figure some things out just to win a couple points here and there in order to win the second set,” Keys, who led a strong American presence in the bottom half of the draw, told reporters.
Eyebrows were raised when Keys split with coach Lindsay Davenport last year after breaking into the world’s top 20.
Former ATP Tour player Jesse Levine is her new coach, and Keys said his focus so far has been on her mental approach.
“I think the biggest thing is just kind of changing my perspective on a lot of stuff,” she said.
”Instead of it being a daunting thing, you know, being down a set, just kind of taking it as a challenge, knowing that I’ve worked really hard and I‘m ready to be in the position.
“Just go out there and be super positive.”
Keys, who saved eight match points before succumbing in last year’s semi-final to Williams, plays Serbia’s former world number one Ana Ivanovic on Saturday in an expected slug-fest.
”I think whoever kind of gets the first strike is going to be the one who comes out on top, the 15th seed said.
All eyes will be on 34-year-old Williams as she attempts to defend the title but Keys, namesake Madison Brengle and Lauren Davis are also flying the American flag, as is Varvara Lepchenko, the Uzbekistan-born 29-year-old.
Brengle, ranked 49, beat Swede Johanna Larsson 7-5 4-6 6-1 and will take on German seventh seed Angelique Kerber next.
Lepchenko beat Spain’s Lara Arruabarrena Vecino 7-6(7) 6-4 to set up a clash with China’s Shuai Zhang.
Top seed Williams is back in action on Friday when she plays Russian Daria Kasatkina for a place in the last-16.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Alison Williams