With her powerful groundstrokes and rocket serves, Madison Keys looks like a seasoned veteran when she's on the tennis court. It's when she stops playing and you can get a look at her face that you realize she's the youngest woman out there.
The nearly-invisible braces, the remaining hint of a baby face; I guessed she was about to become a freshman when I saw her at the Washington Kastles-Philadelphia Freedoms World TeamTennis match last week.
Then I opened the media guide to check:
I was sort of correct. Keys will be a freshman alright, albeit in high school, not college.
She's 14-years old and playing in a professional tennis league. Fourteen! The T-shirt I'm wearing right now is older than Madison Keys. "The Simpsons" had peaked by the time she was born. Yet, on Monday night, Keys bested Wimbledon champion Serena Williams in the singles event at their World TeamTennis match.
Now, before we make too big a deal about this, World TeamTennis singles matches are glorified exhibitions. The different scoring, fan interaction and coaches challenges make the five-game sets vastly different than a standard women's tennis match (although that's entirely the point). And, though Serena was surely trying to win, a loss doesn't carry nearly the same weight that it would in a WTA tournament.
But enough about that. Even though the match didn't mean much, for Keys to best Serena by a 5-1 margin is impressive. I don't care if she did it on Nintendo Wii, when you get the best of Serena Williams it's time to take notice.
Keys is the youngest player in World TeamTennis history (she was 17 days younger than Maria Sharapova when she made her debut). She's coached by John Evert (brother of Chris) and has moved with her family to train under him in Florida. Interestingly, she got her start in tennis at age 4 when she was watching Venus Williams on television and asked her dad for the same outfit. Her father told her that she could have it, but only if she got a racket too.
Keys won her debut WTA match in March and advanced to the Orange Bowl semis in the under-16 tournament as a 13-year old.
Because of WTA rules that limit the amount of tournements played by girls under the age of 18, Keys wouldn't be eligible to be a tour regular until 2013. Serena Williams, for one, might be happy to hear that.