By Jane Voigt
No American man will play the round of 16 at The Australian Open for the fourth consecutive year. But, the women? Four. That’s Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Madison Keys, and Madison Brengle.
For an American tennis industry craving more, this is a bright moment. Two of the women — Madison Keys and Madison Brengle — will be on new ground come tomorrow morning. At 19, Keys has the distinction of smacking tennis balls at about the same pace, or more, than many of her male counterparts. And for Brengle, at 24, the advancement is the golden ring snatched from the sickening ride of a merry-go-round.
“‘Including her first appearance in a WTA final last week in Tasmania, she has won eight tour-level main-draw matches in January,’” wrote The New York Times. “That exceeds her total of seven such wins in the previous eight years since her debut. After years of failing to even approach the top 100, Brengle will enter the top 50.’”
Brengle was a promising junior, but in 2007 the U.S.T.A. cut her support because it disagreed with her “‘off-court behavior and conditioning shortcomings,’” The Times wrote. Now happily based at the IMG Academy in Florida, Brengle said, “‘They get me. I love working with them on little things in my game.’”
The shift in scenery and coaching has finally paid and hopefully, for Brengle, will bring her confidence as the tennis year plays on. The Delaware resident’s mother is also happy about her progression. When Madison was 7, her mother — a tennis coach at the time — set up matches between the youngster and grown men. Those sessions taught the Madison to hit big, run fast, and fight, all characteristics found in her adult game.
Madison Keys did not come from a tennis family. At five she saw a match on TV and told her mom she wanted to be a tennis player. Dreams do come true. Unlike Brengle, Keys has one career title, which she won in Eastbourne, England, last year … a grass-court tune-up event prior to Wimbledon. And, she’s the highest ranked teenager in the women’s game today.
Keys turned pro in 2009, when she was 13. She remains a smily-faced teen off court who also likes to read. But when on court, Keys is all business. Her new coach Lindsay Davenport is a perfect fit for Keys. About ten years ago Mary Carillo, former tennis player and Davenport’s buddy when commentating for Tennis Channel, described Davenport’s game as, ‘big babe tennis.’ The affectionate phrase applied to Carillo, although retired, Mary Pierce and the Williams’ sisters, most notably Venus who stands at six-foot-two.
At five-foot-eleven, Keys fits the same mold. She wallops the tennis ball and she wallops it well, meaning with intention and as close to the center of the racquet as possible. She has a booming serve, too. With more fitness in her regime Keys is better equipped to get to the ball easier and with more frequency. “Lindsay and John [Lindsay’s husband and former player] have been amazing,” Keys said, wrote the Australian Open web site. “It was a great off-season; I learned a lot.”
Her two-set victory over No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova Saturday in the third round spoke volumes about the teen’s career and abilities to get past a 2-time Wimbledon champion with groundstrokes just as powerful as Madison employs.
At the opposite end of the player spectrum stands Venus and Serena Williams. Venus is 34 and Serena 33. They are seasoned champions chased by the pack, Serena more aware of that situation than Venus. But it’s Venus who deserves the most respect from tennis.
Her career has extended two decades. She has 7 Major singles titles and has learned through trial and error how to manage an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome, which was diagnosed in the summer of 2011. Venus never gives up and has remained steadfast in her determination to never give up; she doesn’t have time for that. Her ranking plunged outside the top 100 at the end of 2011, but with her fourth round berth this fortnight it will rise to No. 12, provisionally, after the tournament. She is seeded No. 18 in Melbourne.
Serena lost in this up-coming round last year and has not won the title since 2010, although she holds five. Venus, though, has not seen the fourth round of any major since Wimbledon, 2011; and, has never won this major. They’ve faced each other 12 times at Grand Slams, which began at this slam in 1998. Venus won. However, Serena holds the head-to-head edge, 7-5. They have not met at a major since the 2009 Wimbledon final. Serena won.
The draw for these four Americans, though, has been a bit cruel. They all landed in the top half. That means only one can advance to the final, although two could play the semifinal.
The women’s semifinals are scheduled for Thursday, January 29, so projecting match-ups is risky. However, there is a chance the Williams’ sisters will meet in that round.
Round-of-16 Matches for the Four American Women
Mon., January 25, 11 A.M. Melbourne time/7 P.M. EST: Serena Williams (No. 1) Vs. Garbine Muguruza (No. 24), Rod Laver Arena
Mon., January 25, 11 A.M. Melbourne time/7 P.M. EST: Venus Williams (No. 18) vs. Agnieszka Radwanska (6)
Mon., January 25, late afternoon or early evening: Madison Keys and Madison Brengle.