Over the first 10 days of 2017, we're examining the Top 10 players on the ATP and WTA tours—how will they fare during the new season? All of the previews can be found here.
Is it better to judge a player by her long-term results, or look more closely at how she plays from one match to the next? As with Karolina Pliskova, the two methods yield different results for Madison Keys.
Long-term, the Illinois native is trending in the right direction. Since 2012, she has moved from 149 to 37 to 31 to 18 to 8 in the rankings. In 2016, Keys became the first U.S. woman to make her Top 10 debut in 16 years. She has become a regular in the fourth round and quarterfinals at majors, she barely missed out on a medal at the Olympics in Rio and she finished 2016 by qualifying for the WTA’s season-ending championships for the first time. The expert consensus says that Keys will be a Wimbledon champion within the next four years, and Serena Williams herself has told her that she’s going to be No. 1 someday—Serena doesn’t say that to just anybody. All this, and Keys is still only 21. Is there really anything for star-starved U.S. tennis fans to worry about?
A few things could still stand in Keys’ way, or at least slow her advance. First, she’s injury-prone. She’ll have to miss this year’s Australian Open after undergoing wrist surgery last month; that’s a tough blow for someone who has reached the semifinals and the fourth round in her last two trips Down Under. Her coaching situation is also a question. Over the last two years, Keys has had successful runs with Lindsay Davenport and Thomas Hogstedt, but by the end of each season she had split with both. The good news is that she’ll be restarting with Davenport this season. They were an effective, compatible team in 2015, and there’s no reason to think they won’t be again in 2017.
Most important, of course, is how Keys performs on court. Whoever she works with will have the task of finding a middle ground for her. Keys has the biggest game on the women’s tour, and her forehand is as powerful as all but a few of the men’s. But just because she can hit winners from anywhere doesn’t mean she needs to try to hit winners from anywhere. Can Keys find a way to be aggressive without going for broke? Her record against the Top 4—Angelique Kerber, Serena, Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep—is 3-19. The climb only gets steeper from here.