Tennis is always looking for the next big thing – and if the next big thing is American, that’s even better for our neighbours south of the border.
At the moment, 20-year-old Madison Keys from Boca Raton, Fla., may have eclipsed Genie Bouchard on the North American fast track to tennis stardom.
Street-smart ESPN commentator and former world No. 4, Brad Gilbert, has boldly predicted she will be No. 1 within two years.
The expectations for both Keys and 18-year-old Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who succeeded Bouchard as Wimbledon junior champion in 2013, were what made their second-round French Open match-up on Court 7 such compelling viewing for tennis aficionados on Thursday.
Keys, who has become more of a known quality since reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open in January, ranks No. 16 while Bencic is No. 35.
Hopes for a competitive contest didn’t last long, with the explosive-hitting Keys belting aces on the first two points of the match and racing through the first set 6-0 in a mere 21 minutes. No surprise that she says her serve, a relaxed motion that produces a ball that has both heavy pace and naughty spin, is her favourite shot.
Yours truly headed to Court 7 for the match and noticed Jonathan Leach standing outside the crowded court as Thanasi Kokkinakis finished up a marathon match with his Aussie compatriot Bernard Tomic. Leach is married to Keys’ coach Lindsay Davenport and he shares in those duties as well. It was amusing to hear their seven-year-old son Jager Jonathan say to his father, about the Kokkinakis – Tomic score, “it was 8-6 in the fifth” – easy lingo for a boy whose mother is a former No. 1 and his father was a college player at the University of Southern California (his uncle Rick as well) and his grandfather, Dick Leach, the legendary USC coach.
Pictured above, they couldn’t have seen much they didn’t like in the opening set. Keys, who had a wrap below her right elbow as a precaution after pulling out of her semifinal in Strasbourg last Friday, kept up a constant ground-stroke bombardment on Bencic – a veritable avalanche of winners, 15 of her match total of 34 coming in the opening set.
After a double fault to lose the fourth game of the first set, an angry Bencic slammed down her racquet.
Later the Swiss would be very candid about just how good Keys was, saying, “she played too fast (hit too hard) today for me. I didn’t have time to do anything. Not a lot of players hit the ball so hard as her. And she serves very good. So when she has a good day and barely makes a mistake, it’s hard to beat her.”
Bencic was able to step up a bit at the beginning of the second set, taking a 2-0 lead but soon Keys was back to hitting big. As a spectator sitting at the back of the court and watching her strokes, it almost seemed like every ball lands within six inches of the baseline. The final score was 6-0, 6-3.
Keys was clocked as having the fastest ground strokes – of all the men or women – at the 2014 French Open. Of course, that stat is a little dubious because players involved in long rallies bring down the speed average and Keys likes to finish points quickly. But her forehand is certifiably huge, and players can’t sleep on her backhand either, it’s just about as awesome.
She’s listed at 5-foot-10 and 145 pounds, and that may be accurate. But she looks fitter these days, seemingly having shed some of her teenage puppy fat over the last few months.
Responding to a question about Gilbert’s statement about her being No. 1, Keys said, “I’m just trying to focus on myself and my own expectations, the critique of my team… am not really worrying about what anyone else says.”
A cheerful woman of mixed race whose parents, now separated, are both attorneys, Keys is popular among her peers. It’s possible to see a bit of that in the civilized handshake at the net with Bencic above.
How far she can go at this year’s Roland Garros remains to be seen. Seeded No. 16, she will play No. 23 Timea Bacsinszky, the rejuvenated Swiss player, in the third round and then could face No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova in the round-of-16.
Keys played on clay as a youngster, but is much more comfortable on hard courts. “I think the more I’ve played on it, the more I’m kind of realizing I can actually play on clay,” she said. “I slide pretty well. So maybe in a couple of years I’ll look back and I’ll be like Maria (Sharapova) where she felt – what was it? – an ice skating cow or hippo or something? (Note – “a cow on ice”)
Keys’ good nature was also evident when she was asked about her language skills. “I took like eight years of Spanish, and I can’t speak Spanish,” she said. “Took a year of French and I can count to ten and say the basics.”
About her future language plans, she joked, “I’m going to start with one, and then if I can get that one down, then I’ll try to branch out. But, right now, I’m not killing it.”
Genie Bouchard is officially out of the 2015 French Open after she and partner Max Mirnyi were beaten 6-1, 6-4 in the mixed doubles by the second-seeded pairing of Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Mike Bryan.
“I think it’s hard to, after losing a bad match, to come back on site and play another match,” Bouchard said about returning to the scene of her first-round loss to Kristina Mladenovic on Tuesday. “Max was very appreciative and I was like ‘I gave you my word and I’m going to do it.’ It’s something I wanted to do so I’m happy and I did have fun. I kind of just forgot what happened the past couple of days. I’m looking forward to improving different parts of my game and you can do that in doubles.”
Bouchard answered a series of questions from a group of Canadian reporters. One of the first was about her being chosen as the most marketable athlete in the world by Sports Pro magazine. Her answer when asked why she thought she was selected was simply to smile and answer, “I have no idea. I didn’t know there was something like that.”
Here are some of the other questions and answers:
Q: How did you take your loss (to Mladenovic) on Tuesday, and get your spirits up again?
GB: It’s always tough when you lose a match. The hours right after the match are the toughest. It hurts a bit inside and it’s hard to convince yourself it’s just one match. But after a couple of days, I see it like ‘I didn’t do well, and could have done so much better but it’s just a tennis match.’ I felt the expectations and the pressure but it was like ‘finished for this tournament, there’s no more expectations, no more pressure.’ Now I can relax and look and say ‘what’s the worst thing that’s happened? I lost in the first round and I’m still alive and everything’s going ok.’ I’m going to look to the future – on the grass and the upcoming months. The worst thing that happened to me is that I lost a tennis match. It wasn’t what I wanted but life is still good.
Q: What happened with (former coach) Nick Saviano – he ended the relationship, or you did?
GB: I was with him for eight years, so I wanted a new voice, someone who had experience with champions, and knew how to get there. I got to No. 5 in the world with my old coach (Saviano), but there’s still a big difference between five and one. I wanted someone who knew the way with that (new coach sam Sumyk helped Victoria Azarenka become No. 1). That was the goal in changing coaches. There was a period of adjustment of one or two months where it was very different, to know how to communicate together…personalities and getting adjusted. I didn’t expect that but it happened. It didn’t start well with him but now it’s going well. We’re working hard on the court and one day the results will come.
Q: Some people have wondered about your fitness, your muscle-tone?
GB: I’ve recently changed fitness trainers. I’ve always felt good physically but there are people around me who thought that I haven’t progressed very much. If that’s the case, it’s really not good but I always want to progress in the next year at least. I don’t know if it’s happened or not, because I always felt okay on the court. I’ve changed fitness trainer (now with Laurent Lafitte who used to work with Azarenka) and I think we’re making progress in the right direction. (Joking) I want to have more muscles like Serena!
Q: You been criticized for a few things – here last year when you spoke about the Quebec accent, not shaking hands with the Romanian player in Montreal, and announcing at the last minute that you weren’t going to Quebec for Fed Cup (in February vs. Czech Republic). People have criticized that. Was that too harsh, how do you see it?
GB: I think there’ll always be people who don’t agree with what you do – no matter what you do. It’s a good thing too because it means you’ve done something in life. If you have people who aren’t in agreement – haters – I don’t want people like that but everyone who’s done something in life have that. I don’t look at that too much. All the examples you mentioned, there just things that happened, they weren’t planned. People will always say something whether I do good things or things they don’t think are good.
Q: If your fans asked “what’s going on with you,” what would you answer?
GB: I’d say that life isn’t perfect and things don’t always go as you like them to. I had a very good year last year and maybe I won’t have the same results as last year, maybe I’ll have a year like last year next year, or in two years and a better year in three years. I don’t really know why everyone is panicking a bit because I’m doing the same thing as last year. That really doesn’t make sense for me. There are ups and downs, and this is a bit of a down now, but I believe in my ability and I know I can come back.
Q: At Indian Wells, you beat Lucie Hradecka and Coco Vandeweghe quite easily in the first two matches, and it seemed you were just like the Genie Bouchard that everyone knows. Then you lost your third match (to qualifier Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine) and since then you have struggled. Can you explain that?
GB: The match was very close and tough and stressful and I got hurt (abdominal strain) but it was a close match and I knew I could win it if I played my tennis but I was a bit hesitant during the match. I think I lost some confidence after that match, even if I shouldn’t because it’s just one match. After that I felt less confident on the court in Miami (Tatjana Maria) and Charleston (Lauren Davis). Since that time, I’d say after Fed Cup, in practice and in matches I’ve felt better. There are matches like that sometimes.
Dabrowski out in doubles
Gabriela Dabrowsi and her partner Alicja Rolsolska of Poland were ousted in the first round of the women’s doubles on Thursday. They were beaten 6-4, 6-1 by the pairing of Chan Yung-Jan of Taipei and Zheng Jie of China.
Paris… Paris… Paris
Paris is world-renowned for its art, architecture, food, fashion and… feces. The latter certainly doesn’t fall into any of the former categories but it’s widely on display on the trottoirs (sidewalks) in the City of Light. Boulevard Lafayette is the location for the example above. And that is definitely not chocolat!