Top seed and five-time champion Serena Williams needed nine match points in today's semifinal match to win her spot in the Australian Open final. She needed nine match points because her opponent, 19-year-old Madison Keys, just would not go away. During the entire two-set match (whose 7-6, 6-2 scoreline doesn't begin to describe what actually happened), Williams got a taste of what it can feel like to be on the opposite side of the net of--Serena Williams. Keys served magnificently, and struck the ball so hard that she actually made Williams spin around on court a few times.
Keys has been a hard hitter and a good server since she entered the tour, but now she has added better shot selection and she has developed that fine sense of just when to strike the ball. It's no wonder; her tennis lineage is impressive.
As a very young player, she trained at the Evert Academy. Several years ago--six or seven--when asked it there was anyone up and coming, Evert said no, not at the moment, but she had someone very young who was going to make a very big impression (my words--I don't recall her exact ones). That "someone" was Madison Keys. Keys is currently coached by Lindsay Davenport, one of the cleanest hitters of the ball to ever play on the tour. Between Evert's backhand skills and legendary mental toughness and Davenport's serving and ball-striking, there was a lot of good stuff for Keys to absorb.
Keys lost today's semifinal, but her great serving, stunning groundstrokes and gutsy face-down of Serena thrust her into a new level of "young star." Saving the eight match points was a show in itself.
Williams was great, and she seemed to relish the opportunity to get the better of someone who wasn't afraid to battle her. Keys played so well, the match only served to remind us all how great Serena is. Between them, they hit 25 aces (13 for Serena, 12 for Madison).
During this huge thriller, Tennis Australia chose to hold a press conference about its Davis Cup team, and Australian Open officials allowed them to do it. And I think that speaks for itself.
The other semifinal could have gone one or two ways: Either Ekaterina Makarova was mentally ready to get to a major final--or not. The answer was clearly "not," which Makarova openly acknowledged in her press conference. What an odd career Makarova has had. She's won only two singles titles, but she storms into majors and easily gets to the second week. She used to get to the quarterfinals and then lose belief. At the 2014 U.S. Open and in this Australian Open, her belief has grown and she's made the semifinals.
One hopes that some time soon, her belief will grow some more and we'll see her in a final--or at least see her being competitive in a semifinal. In this one, her beautifully tricky lefty serve was scarcely seen, and she just didnt have any confidence against Maria Sharapova. Sharapova won 6-3, 6-2 against a really flat Makarova.
So now it comes down to Williams and Sharapova again, and Williams has defeated Sharapova so many times; the 2nd seed, in fact, has not beaten Williams since 2004. Williams is not totally healthy--she's suffering from a respiratory virus--but that didn't stop her from beating a very tough Keys.
For some reason, Garbine Muguruza was asked the other day about Sharapova's Serena problem. Her take? "When
you are losing to her ten years, there is something in your head
blocking during the match." I'll go with that. What will Maria do with it?