More than four years after Madison Keys won her first WTA Tour match, the 18-year-old American beat Heather Watson to pick up her first win at Wimbledon. On the evidence of that performance, there will be many more victories to come on the grass of the All England Club for the talented teenager.
Keys beat Watson 6-3, 7-5 in a stunning display of attacking tennis on No.2 Court which shows why many are following her career with interest, which has been the case ever since Keys beat Alla Kudryavtseva in Ponte Vedra Beach in April 2009 at the age of 14.
Months later she made the headlines once more when, just one week after Serena Williams had won The Championships, Keys defeated her 5-1 in a World Team Tennis match in the USA. An exhibition match, admittedly, but still mightily impressive, although Keys modestly plays down the impact of that particular win.
“It feels like it was yesterday,” said Keys. “These last four years have just completely flown by. I don't think I gained tons of confidence from that match. But I think over the years, playing more and more matches, getting more and more experience has been more of a confidence builder for me.”
If Keys needed any reminder that she was not going to receive much support in her first main draw match at Wimbledon against the home hope Watson, it came during the warm-up. Keys hit a ball into the net and a British supporter responded by cheering.
Harsh perhaps but Keys replied in the perfect way by breaking Watson in the third game with a stunning backhand winner to take the early advantage. Regularly serving at speeds of over 110mph, Keys was in control and broke once more to take the set as Watson netted a forehand.
Watson, who returned to the tour at the French Open following a two month lay-off through glandular fever, played her way back into the match at the start of the second set as she took a 3-1 lead, making a good job of exposing Keys’ movement, which the American still has to work on if she is to fully fulfill her potential.
Keys, however, has the big weapons off the ground that 21-year-old Watson, ranked just four places below Keys, lacks. Repeated aggression and a stunning cross-court backhand got Keys the break back for 4-4, but she admitted to feeling a bit guilty in the last game as she hit two net cords, one of them on match point, as she broke Watson for the match.
“I was definitely pretty nervous at the beginning,” said Keys, who is now ranked No.52 after being outwith the top 200 at this time last year. “Once I started playing the match a little bit, getting into it, I felt a lot better.
“I’m still trying to get used to the grass. I haven't played lots of matches on grass. But I love the serve on grass, love that there are not long points like on red clay. So I am getting used to it and liking it more and more.”
Watson is still to open her ladies’ doubles campaign with Mervana Jugic-Salkic against Cara Black and Marina Erakovic, and will play the mixed doubles with fellow Brit Jonathan Marray. Once The Championships are over, a training block is planned ahead of the US hard-court season in an attempt to improve her fitness.
“I feel like my game isn't back yet,” said Watson. “My reactions are slow. I'm not moving like I usually move, getting balls back. I don't feel quick and the same as I used to be.
“After Grand Slams I feel it's good definitely to have a few days off and rest. Because it's not just the physical part of it, it's the mental part that a slam takes out of you. Then I definitely want to get running, get in the gym, get fit and get back to how I was playing before I got ill.”
Next for Keys is a match against the No.30 seed Mona Barthel, who also picked up her first Wimbledon win after saving triple match point and defeating Monica Niculescu 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. With the German 22-year-old also renowned for her powerful groundstrokes, it could be quite a battle. Hold onto your hats.
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