DOHA — Madison Keys may be just 22 but she’s already in her ninth year on tour, and has her mentors to thank—at least in part—for her rapid growth.
The American, playing in the Qatar Total Open for the very first time, advanced over Qiang Wang on Tuesday, 6-1, 6-4.
Being in a new place—especially as foreign as Qatar can feel—for the first time has its disadvantages. Just like if you travelled somewhere new, particularly alone, it can be daunting to figure out all the details incuding where to stay and eat.
But Keys has had the upper hand at most of the tour’s stops for a while now.
“I had Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs when I was first on tour pretty much totally take over and help me get from like point A to point B,” Keys said. “Without them I would have been a disaster for the first couple of years on tour.”
Keys started out on tour in 2009 and at just 14 became the seventh-youngest player ever to win a WTA match. She cracked the Top 40 at the age of 18, and reached a high of No. 8 in 2016.
“I think it’s just the little things more than tennis,” Keys said. “Stay at this hotel, this one's better or don't go here, go here. Or even just things of, hey, this would be a great week if a friend or your mom can come. It’s just little bits of information where if you've never been there before you'd have no idea. Little things like that can help so much.”
Keys hasn’t competed since reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals, but she’s adjusting quickly to the environment in Doha.
“I definitely think that the ball is flying a bit quicker. That totally plays into my game. I love fast courts,” Keys said. “The tournament is great. I'll be 100 percent honest with you, besides the hotel, I ventured out one day for a walk, I haven't done anything. Hopefully I can be here for a while and actually get to see some part of it.”
In the second round, Keys faces a very familiar opponent, fellow American CiCi Bellis. Four years Keys’ junior, Bellis ran through qualifying to reach the second round.
“[This] was one time that I wasn't even mad about having to play qualies, because the courts are a little different here; you have to get used to them,” Bellis said. “So it's really nice for me to have now three matches under my belt going into the next round.”
Keys and Bellis are based at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., but this will be their first-ever meeting on tour.
“It's always hard when you play someone that you literally see every single day when you're training. But it was bound to happen eventually,” Keys said.
Keys is ranked No. 14, while the 18-year-old Bellis is No. 48, but, as always, ranking, age and nationality won’t truly matter when the two walk onto the court on Wednesday.
“As far as pressures go, I don't think it's any different than playing another young good player—doesn't really matter where they're from,” Keys said. “They're all really good, always trying to beat you.”
While it’s always going to be strictly competitive on court, off the court, Keys may already be a useful bearer of knowledge for young rising players like Bellis.
“I have always just tried to be that person that if there is a question and someone's asking it, to be the person that could help out,” Keys said. “If I could be helpful in any way to any of the girls on tour, then great.”
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