It’s 10am and the media room of the WTA International of Linz is already full even though the matches won’t start for the next two hours. The reason behind such early call for all the journalists in town is world number 7, Madison Keys, who took a last minute flight to Austria to try and secure the points she needs to qualify for the WTA Finals of Singapore.
“I am here because I came from China and I was awake since 4am!” explained a very jet-lagged Keys: “I have already practised… sorry about making you come early!”
“It is kind of a big time of the year for all of us trying to qualify for Singapore, so, you know, everyone is playing some of their best tennis, but what I am here to do is go out and play my best tennis”.
The American has visited numerous countries in her young career to travel to tournaments, but this is her first trip to the land that gave birth to Mozart: “It’s my first time in Austria and I think it is beautiful. The city is lovely and I was walking around and even today I will go out and do some shopping I think. It is a very good change and I am very happy to be here and I love the weather as well (cold)”.
Strange it might seem, the grey sky, the rainy clouds and around zero temperatures of this unusually cold week of October are for real putting a wide smile on Key’s face: “I am from Illinois, so from where it is cold, but I don’t see much of it in Florida, where I am most of the times, all the times actually, so this cold and grey sky is a good change!”
For many years, American tennis has been looking for a future star and many girls have crumbled under the pressure of expectations. Nobody would like to be called for substituting Serena Williams, but Keys does not seem to bother with comparisons.
“I don’t think many people will ever be quite at the same level of Serena Williams, so I don’t wanna say that,” she commented with a broad smile: “But you know, I am definitely trying to do my best and it is more for me than for anyone else, so if I can be a successful story after Serena, great. But I am not gonna put 22 slams as the only way I can consider to have succeeded”.
It is a clever reasoning from the 21-year-old who explained in detail why she does not think Serena’s legacy will be a problem: “It is like saying that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are going to be a burden for tennis: they are great, they are one of a kind. But you cannot expect every person to be like that, so no, I think Serena was great for tennis and she has done a lot for the sport. Definitely I don’t think many people should be compared to her standards”.
But if the comparison between the two is a no-go, it does not mean that Keys and Serena do not share some things together: “We don’t train together or anything, surely we have been part of the Fed Cup and the Olympic team together… but we like to send Snapchat to each other!”
With only two events on the tour before the WTA Finals in Singapore, Keys is a heavy contender to take one of the last remaining tickets. If she was to reach the final this week, her place among the best 8 of the season would be practically sure. However, looking back at where she was before the European clay swing, Singapore was only a far thought: “To be completely honest, at the beginning of the year I didn’t think I would be in chase for Singapore, actually around Charleston I was barely in the run for the second tier finals… so it was not even on my mind. But now it is definitely the first thing in my mind, because it would be amazing to make it to the finals for the first time. I am really proud of myself for being able to put me in this position”.
“I think I did a lot of work this year and it is showing now that I got to the top 10”, she explained: “it was a goal since I was a kid. But there is still so much I want to work on and so much I want to improve. As great as it is, there is still much I want to do”.
One of the areas where the American has been working the hardest to improve is consistency both within a match and during the space of a week: “Consistency was a huge part of it and part of it was because I was getting injured a lot and so I couldn’t play as many matches. Now I have a full team and they work with me every day, so that is a huge part of it. But, for sure, just being more consistent and getting more wins and getting further in tournament was a huge goal for my year and I feel like I am becoming that person who is more consistent… but it’s funny because I am still not happy with it. So it is always going to be a goal of mine”.
Whoever has been following the development of this girl will have surely noticed how she has tried to evolve as a player by adding new solution to her big ground strokes: “I am working on my all-round game, to come to the net a lot more, but it isn’t my first instinct to leave the baseline. Sometimes it comes easier than other times, but it is definitely my goal to become a better all-round player”.
Being not afraid to come to the next may be a difficult change in a player’s mind, but for Keys it will be a lot easier than approaching a pool.
“I have a very illogical fear of swimming pools” she told us talking about fears: “I am always convinced there is a shark in there. When I was younger, I had family friend who thought it was hilarious to pretend there were sharks in the pool and they could come up from the filters… now 20 years later it is a severe fear of mine, but I am okay in oceans!”
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