Editor's note: On January 27, Madison Keys (special SI Kids correspondent Madison Keys!) won maybe the biggest match of her career. In the Australian Open, she outlasted Venus Williams in the quarterfinals, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, to reach the semifinal round. It was 19-year-old Keys' first Grand Slam quarterfinal, and her win was all the sweeter because of it came against Venus.
“You just have to enjoy the moment, and I did enjoy it, and I get to enjoy another moment next round," Keys said.
But she won't get to enjoy it long. Keys plays Venus' sister Serena in the Open semifinals, which should be a far tougher task for the teenager. She has only played Serena once before, in 2013, and Serena defeated her in straight sets. Adding to the challenge: a nagging leg injury.
Keys and Serena meet today at 11:30 p.m. ET. And that gives us the opportunity to share a profile of Keys that ran in the October 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated Kids.
At age 19, Madison Keys is one of the top tennis players in the United States. She is the 27th-ranked women's player in the world — which makes her the fourth-best American — and has earned more than $500,000 this year. Yet she's fairly anonymous. She occasionally gets stopped on the street, but usually strangers ask, What do you play? "Because I have the tan lines, people can usually tell that I'm an athlete of some sort," Keys says. "I almost always get volleyball, and then basketball on occasion. When I tell them I play tennis, they think I'm in high school or college."
When she further adds that she's not only a professional, but that she turned pro at 14 and does pretty well for herself, they often ask something like, What's next? "And I'll be like, 'Uh, yeah, I have the French Open coming up soon.' And they'll be like, 'Oooooh ... so you're good?"
Here's how good: When Keys was 14, she beat Serena Williams 5–1 in a team tennis event in Philadelphia. Two years later she played her way into the U.S. Open main draw. She beat veteran American Jill Craybas before falling to Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in three sets. Not bad for a kid who got into the sport when she was four years old because it was the only way to get her parents to buy her a tennis dress.
Now, after almost five years as a touring professional tennis player, Keys is enjoying a career year. She reached the semifinals of a tournament in Sydney, Australia, in January. She again reached the semis at an event in Strasbourg, France, in May. That set the stage for Keys's biggest breakthrough yet: a WTA title — her first ever — at a mid-June grass court tournament in the coastal English town of Eastbourne. "I'm just playing a little smarter," she says, "making the right choices. I'm a little bit more confident in thinking I can stay on the court for three hours if I have to. There's no rush or panic or anything like that."
Over the last few years, Keys has become quite the globetrotting teenager. Other regular stops during the WTA season, which runs from January to November, include Rome, Italy; Beijing, China; and Madrid, Spain. When Keys is on the road, she files video blogs of her adventures on the road for SIKIDS.com. While most youngsters her age — especially ones who make their own money and travel without their parents — would live it up, Keys has to work to squeeze sightseeing into her tight schedule. For instance, just before the start of the U.S. Open in New York City in August, this is what a big night in the Big Apple looked like: lots of practice and then, she says, "I'll go see my trainer, come back and maybe go out to dinner with a couple of friends." Most nights she was in bed by 10:30.
Between all the practices she has to arrange, the travel itineraries she has to plot out, the hotel room numbers she has to remember, and the media and sponsorship obligations she has to fulfill along the way, life on the road can be rough. Especially since Keys' family — her mom, Christine; her dad, Rick; and her three sisters, Sydney, Montana, and Hunter — is back in her hometown of Rock Island, Illinois.
Madison is the second oldest, and it shows whenever her younger sisters text her to check up on her. "My sisters will send me these messages with [abbreviations] and things," she says. "I'll have to Google just to figure out what they're saying."
The statement Keys is making, on the other hand, is much clearer: If you're in a hurry to grow up and make a successful life on your own, hard work and focus are two things you don't want to leave home without.
Photos: Heinz Kluetmeier for Sports Illustrated