For years, Madison Keys kept pushing. She turned pro on her 14th birthday in 2009. She signed a deal with Nike and won her first Women’s Tennis Association Tour match later that year. She debuted in the U.S. Open at 16. She made her first major semifinal, at the Australian Open, before turning 20. Through it all, she wanted and needed to do more.
Now she is 24, ranked No. 17 in the world. She enters the Citi Open at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center this week as a mainstay in the top 25, featuring a game built on aggressive baseline play and powerful ball striking. She is a 10-year veteran on the pro tour, a good bet among American women to headline the post-Williams era, and she was once tabbed as a future No. 1 by Serena Williams herself
Keys has never considered herself much of a deep thinker. But she has become one, at least briefly, amid the rise of Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old sensation who burst onto the global tennis scene at Wimbledon this month when she advanced to the fourth round. Both players will play their first main draw match at the Citi Open on Tuesday. In Gauff, Keys sees a glimmer of her former self, the exciting young player she used to be. Gauff’s Wimbledon run functioned as a kind of nostalgic moment.
“Honestly, I don’t think I do much reflecting on my career. I’m pretty focused on what I’m going to do next,” Keys said Monday afternoon. “[Gauff] makes me reflect a little bit, on the last nine to 10 years on the tour. I really love just how exciting [Gauff] is. When you’ve been playing, you lose that a little bit
“It’s been fun to watch her and remind myself that I was that excited to play once,” Keys added. “I’m trying to get back to that.”
Keys reached a career-high ranking of No. 7 in 2016. She has been training at home in Orlando, focusing on having fun again. To relax, she downloaded the Headspace meditation app on her iPhone. She wanted to practice being mindful and aware, to slow things down, to put her mind at ease and enjoy the game she began playing when she was 4 years old
Madison Keys returns a shot during an exhibition match against Venus Williams last week. (John Bazemore/AP) Keys wants to be more consistent. She made the fourth round of the Australian Open this year, then lost in the first round at both Indian Wells and the Miami Open. She won the Charleston Open in April, then lost in the first round of the Madrid Open. She advanced to the French Open quarterfinals but followed that with a second-round loss at Wimbledon
“Once you’ve been there a few times, all of a sudden you’re just more stressed,” Keys said of Wimbledon. “You lose some of the joy of, ‘I’m at Wimbledon, this is really, really cool.’ Seeing that in [Gauff] was really fun. It’s definitely something all of us could use: Just remember how much fun we have playing tennis.”
Keys has been an elite player for at least five years now. She overcame two operations on her left wrist before she made a dazzling run in the 2017 U.S. Open, where she lost to fellow American Sloane Stephens in the final. She nearly returned to the final a year ago, losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka in straight sets in the semifinals
As Keys gears up for another U.S. Open run, she is still hungry. She is getting tired of the frequent reminders that, despite being only 24, she is often one of the older players on the court. Her renewed self begins here, at the Citi Open, where her focus on consistency remains her priority
“Maybe have a few more peaks and not so many valleys,” she said. “That seems like a good start.”
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Coco Gauff’s world changed at Wimbledon. She seems ready for it.
New at the Citi Open: Food by José Andrés, a beer garden and protection from the elements
Coco Gauff highlights a group of young stars worth watching at the Citi Open