Apia International Sydney 2014 semifinalist Madison Keys has this week become the world’s highest-ranked teenager.
The American achieved the milestone after Canadian Eugenie Bouchard – currently ranked 19th – turned 20 years old on Tuesday.
Keys, 19 years of age, is ranked not far behind at No.38, slightly down from her career-high ranking of 36th achieved in October 2013.
“Well, my birthday wasn’t very long ago. It was February 17th. Maybe it’s a late birthday present!” Keys told wtatennis.com about the milestone.
“Partially it kind of sucks because with one day Genie’s just losing that title.
“But I’ll happily take it. I mean, it feels good!”
Keys is one of just three teenagers inside the world’s top 100 – the others are Ukrainian world No.44 Elina Svitolina and No.72 Anna Schmiedlova of Slovakia.
But in an era of teenage success stories becoming fewer and further between, Keys is bucking the trend.
That’s because, despite her youthfulness, her game displays much of the physical maturity and strength of a seasoned veteran.
The American owns a world-class serve, sending down a delivery at 197km/h in Sydney last month that made her the fastest-serving female player of the tournament. There’s plenty of power in her groundstrokes too, with Keys regularly able to blast clean winners from the back of the court and take command of rallies with her sheer pace of shot.
For a couple of years now, she has shown enormous promise in transitioning to the pro ranks, and some of her best showings have come in the Harbour City.
Her breakout performance came at the Apia International in 2013, where, as a 17-year-old qualifier ranked well outside the top 100, she stormed through to the quarterfinals without the loss of a set. She very nearly toppled Li Na in the last eight, coming within a tiebreak of victory before succumbing in three.
It set the stage for a magnificent 2013 season – Keys went on to reach the semifinals in Osaka, quarterfinals in Charleston and Birmingham, and third round at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, cracking the top 40 in the process.
And at the beginning of 2014 she proved it was no fluke with another stellar result in Sydney.
Defending for the first time a hefty swag of WTA ranking points, Keys improved on her result from 12 months earlier, crushing red-hot seventh seed Simona Halep in the first round en route to the semifinals, where she was stopped by Angelique Kerber.
“First semifinal in a (WTA) Premier event, so very excited about that,” she said at the time.
“Definitely a confidence booster. Just trying to keep building from this and hopefully keep doing well all year.”
Since Sydney, her form has slowed somewhat; she fell in the second round at the Australian Open and lost her one singles rubber in the United States’ Fed Cup tie against Italy.
But she did win three matches this week to qualify for the main draw in Acapulco, and will next head for home soil to contest the big US spring hardcourt events in Indian Wells and Miami, on a surface and in conditions which suit her big game.
With a strong off-season under her belt, Keys is confident of achieving even more milestones as the season progresses in what is a rapidly burgeoning career.
“Fitness-wise and tennis-wise we worked on a bunch of things and I got better and improved, which is the whole point of the off-season,” she said.
“I’m happy with it, and hoping that I just continue to do well and keep building off what I worked so hard on.”