By Tumaini Carayol
(June 19, 2014) EASTBOURNE, ENGLAND – As the typical English rain clouds gathered gracelessly, Wimbledon’s imminent arrival seemingly magnetically dragging them towards the final dress rehearsal, Madison Keys was suddenly fighting two opponents as she rushed to complete her work for the day before the heavens opened.
In the end, she won every battle. She conceded three games. She served out the second set breadstick to love. She concluded with a perfect, slick ace straight down the middle. Barely a minute after she had vacated the stadium and safely tucked herself away in the players’ area, out flew a barrage of heavy, abhorrent rain. There was no denial from about the rainclouds stealing her attention in the closing moments as she attempted to finish it all off.
“I lost that return game, and I could see the clouds coming,” She chuckled afterwards. “I was like, Okay, focus, get this game done. Yeah, just really happy I was able to get it done before the rain.”
She was a winner on the court and it was yet another great performance. The serve that has been tipped so unrelentingly, and for good reason. This time around it scaled the 120mph mark and her opponent, countrywoman Lauren Davis, was left chasing the shadows of the balls as they flew straight past her. The groundstrokes, so compact and hitch-less, were the surprise. At times since her arrival it has been difficult to properly conclude whether or not they are bonafide, formidable weapons trustworthy at most important moments, or just strokes capable of generating a lot of pace. But now it all seems to be coming together for her now.
For all her on-court prowess and the fierce form she finds herself in, one of the most interesting developments has been the ground she is slowly marking out for herself behind the curtain in the press room.
Rarely does Madison Keys’ name rise up when talk of the most entertaining players begins, but there is no doubting it. It’s partly because she hasn’t yet won enough, but the bare transcripts often released so desperately fail in conveying the colorful personality that bursts out at every opportunity. But it exists. Her humor is dryer than the Sahara. She is the undisputed world number one in the sarcasm and self-deprication stakes. She doesn’t take herself seriously and it shows as she batted back countless questions with all the authority of one of her nuclear serves.
When discussing the perils of facing a home player and competing with crowds cheering against her, Keys casually narrated her route from her stadium, every comic cue filled with rolled eyes and piercing sarcasm.
“I mean, you’re used to it. Obviously you have been in situations where the crowd is against you. Even when I was walking back from here today, someone goes, “Hey, good job! I hope you lose tomorrow!” I was like, “Thank you!”
The grass has been a fierce discussion point, with many believing that her booming serve should make her a force on the surface. Even after last year’s strong performance against Radwanska or her early performances this week, she only ever appeared cautiously confident. Not today, as she so literally demonstrated when asked to rank grass amongst her favourite surface. “It’s like way up here,” she said, stretching an arm high above her head in a practical demonstration. “Everything else is like down here.”
“Even hard court?”
“Even hard court.”
She was asked to discuss her inconsistency; the question inquiring about the degree of control she possesses over such a colossal game capable of thundering winners and missing in equal amounts. With laughing eyes, she interrupted the question with a perfect deadpan “I suck? Is that what you’re trying to say?” Laughter rained down but it didn’t stop her from a simultaneously amusing and honest answer upon the completion of the question.
“There are definitely days where I feel like it’s just the entire universe is against me and doesn’t want me to win.” More chuckles and more rolled eyes. “But I’m getting better, and there is not really as many matches where I walk off the court and think, I have no idea what just happened. There is definitely still days where I go out and I feel like I can’t hit the ball in the stadium. Hopefully that’s not tomorrow”
The end soon came, and after Wozniacki’s battles with the umpire, she was asked about her own temper, to which the best exchange of the day followed.
“Wozniacki was a bit angry about some calls today. Can you remember the angriest you’ve ever been on court?”
“I can remember. I don’t think I want to tell you what happened, though (laughter).”
“Have you ever broken a racquet?”
“On court? “Accidentally” on court.”
“Accidently? And what about off court?
“Maybe… Oh, look at the time! It’s time to go!”
Shortly after, Keys was dismissed and she stepped off her chair and walked out of her press conference. A winner on and off the court.
Tumaini Carayol is covering the Aegon International for Tennis Panorama News. He is a freelance tennis writer for various publications, and also writes about professional tennis at his site Foot Fault.