LONDON–It took a second or two to recognize Madison Keys out on Court 12 at Wimbledon on Monday morning. True, not many players on the WTA tour look as physically imposing as the 5’10” Illinois native. And true, not many can hit a forehand 90 m.p.h., which she appeared to do on a couple of occasions during her relatively painless 6-4, 6-2 win over Nao Hibino.
But it has been a while since Keys has had much of a presence on tour, or lasted long enough at a tournament to be noticed. Instead of starting 2017 at the Australian Open, one of her favorite events, she started it on the sidelines, recovering from surgery on her left wrist. Even when Keys returned in March, she tended not to stick around long. Over the course of the clay season this spring, Keys lost in the first round in Charleston, Madrid and Rome, and in the second round at Roland Garros. After that last loss, she finally bit the bullet and had a second surgery to relieve that pain that had crept back into her wrist.
Now here she was at Wimbledon just three weeks later, in a simple white dress, with her hair up and her face obscured by a visor. She looked different, calmer, less anxious, less agitated over the result of each point. She was back on a surface she loves, and at a tournament that Chris Evert, among others, has predicted she’ll win sooner rather than later. Keys said last week that she felt like this was a fresh start for her, and judging by her austere look and her business-like victory—punctuated by 20 winners—it seemed that she had, for this day anyway, purged the struggles of the recent past from her mind.