Madison Keys: A New World Number One In The Making?

Madison Keys has been touted as a future world No.1. Not by just anyone, but by Brad Gilbert, arguably one of the top tennis coaches ever.

“Madison, I believe, in the next 24 to 36 months will become No.1 in the world and win Slams,” the respected coach said of the current world No.19. “She has that much athleticism and talent.”

It's a bold claim. But then Gilbert is the type of guy who can safely make such bold claims. After all, it was he who guided Andre Agassi to six of his eight Grand Slams, who took Andy Roddick to world No.1, and who catapaulted Andy Murray into the world top 10. 

He knows as well as anyone what Keys is capable of.

So let's analyse what the 20-year-old from Illinois has going for her. Why is Gilbert so confident of her future success?



Tennis/Frauen: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2004 : News Photo

Like Andy Murray, Keys is one of the few top-ranked players to be coached by a woman. Lindsay Davenport, to be precise. 

Davenport is no stranger to Grand Slam success (she won Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open) and, like Keys, had some big guns in her armoury.

She takes her place alongside the likes of Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Amelie Mauresmo, and Michael Chang as a so-called celebrity coach.


Tournament success

Unseeded and just 19, Keys made it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open earlier this year. In June last year she won her first WTA title, in Eastbourne. Expect many more.


To attack or not to attack

All players love to attack, and blast the ball across the net. The trick is knowing exactly when to attack. Younger players often make the mistake of attacking too soon, or at the wrong moment.

Not Keys, though. She seems wiser than her 20 years. She knows when to grind out a rally, and she knows when to go for the kill. 

“I'm finally understanding it,” she says of attacking. “But also the confidence of being able to stay in points… knowing that I can last in a point, and knowing I can run side to side for 12 balls.”


The technique


So far in 2015, Keys is fourth on the list of big servers. At Brisbane she recorded a 123mph serve.

In 2014 she hit a total of 235 aces, placing her seventh on the WTA ace leader board.

Then there’s her backhand – possibly her best shot. Powerful, often struck early, it catches opponents off-guard.

Keys has improved her movement and footwork around the court enormously over the last few months. “More explosive” is how she describes it.


Big-name agent

Li Na's Retirement Ceremony : News Photo

As well as her celebrity coach, Keys has big-time agent Max Eisenbud in her camp.

This guy takes no prisoners. He’s the man who groomed Maria Sharapova to become arguably the best-known face in women’s tennis.

Keys couldn’t ask for a better image consultant.


Flying the flag


Aside from Serena Williams, critics are writing off American tennis right now. 

Admittedly, the men's game is in a sorry state, with only one player in the top 20.

But when it comes to the women's game, Keys is shouting to be heard. You can tell she's desperate to make her mark.

“When people say that American tennis is dead, you kind of take it a little personal,” she grumbled. “Someone went as far as to say that Serena Williams is the only American player, male or female, worth talking about or watching.”


Won't be pigeon-holed


In a nation obsessed by race, Keys refuses to be pigeon-holed by the colour of her skin. (Her mother is white and her father black.)

Asked if she identified herself as “white or African-American”, this is what she said.

“I’m very much right in the middle. I don’t really think of it. I don’t really identify myself as white or African-American. I’m just me. I’m Madison.”

This individuality will put her in a strong position on a professional tennis tour where so many players struggle to stand out form the crowd.

Madison Keys is 12th equal favourite at 51.00 to win the next Grand Slam in the calendar, the French Open. Fellow American Serena Williams is favourite at 3.75

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