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By Chris Oddo

Madison Keys, Sydney 2013 (January 9, 2013) -- You are not hearing it here first: 17-year-old American Madison Keys is about to be a massive star in the tennis world.

Are we going out in a limb in saying that? Hardly. Opinions on Keys' seemingly limitless potential have been abundant ever since the young prodigy became a teenager. Watch Keys dominate a service game or two, and it's not hard to understand why pundits rave. The blossoming young baseliner has rare and evocative power, and she’s already strong enough to overpower women that are five and ten years her senior. Keys’ potential is plain to see, and her game speaks for itself.

We’ve known about the Rock Island, Illinois native ever since she became the seventh youngest player to record a WTA victory at the age of 14 years and 48 days, in 2009. Almost four years later, she appears to be on the cusp of what could be a very promising professional career.

Is Keys a lock to be a top ten player? Of course not. Nobody is, no matter how much potential they show as a junior. But given the sheer, alarming firepower of Keys’ game at its current level, it is a logical assumption to make.

That isn’t to say Keys doesn’t need to improve, or that there aren't pitfalls she'll need to avoid. She does, and there are. Keys finds herself out of position against a deft attack too often, probably because she's still in the process of growing into her 5'10" frame; She rarely -- if ever -- goes to the net, and her forehand can be the source of far too many forced errors. But what Keys does do well is take the play to her opponent with verve. And when she is doing that behind her big, booming serve and lethal backhand, Keys can wreak havoc on the opposition. She can blow players off the court, and she did that this week in Sydney in making the first quarterfinal run of her career.

Keys avenged her only two Grand Slam losses when she beat Lucie Safarova and Zheng Jie back-to-back in Sydney this week, and the victories were a clear indication of just how much improvement Keys has made in the last two years. In 2011 when she beat Jill Craybas at the U.S. Open, Keys lost a three-setter to Safarova on Grandstand in the second round. In 2012 after winning a wildcard into the Australian Open, Keys was knocked off by Zheng in the first round, winning just three games.

This week at the Apia International Keys took her revenge on both, jumping all over Safarova and Zheng, losing only seven games in two lopsided victories against the pair, combined.

If Keys’ potential was on display in those two tilts, her liabilities were on display in last night’s 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-2 loss to Li Na. Li wasn’t perfect in the two hour, twenty minute quarterfinal tilt, but she was good enough to expose Keys’ movement regularly, goading the youngster into more than 40 unforced errors, most of which seemed to come from the forehand side of the 17-year-old.

Still, there were patches of awe-inspiring tennis from Keys. She’s got power to spare, from both wings and from seemingly any depth or height. If the youngster lacks one thing it’s that she can’t always get in position to unleash the power, and when she can’t her lack of an adequate defensive playbook comes to the fore.

Even so, Li came away impressed with Keys' game. "If she plays [at a] level like this every match she should be soon top 20, top 15, top 10," she opined.

That's high praise coming from Li Na, and it wasn't the only praise from a former Grand Slam champion that Keys received on Tuesday. "She, like Serena, is a power player," Chris Evert said of Keys in an ESPN conference call before the match. "I think her serve even rivals Serena. I think it could be just as good if it isn't already. So I think we've got to watch her."

By the looks of things, we'll have plenty of chances to watch Keys' game blossom in the near future. She'll head down the coast and start preparing for her second appearance at the Australian Open, which begins next week.

High on confidence and in possession of a jaw-dropping arsenal of power strokes, Keys will look to make her biggest mark on the Grand Slam stage to date.

If she breaks out in a big way we won't be the only ones saying "I told you so."

(Photo Credit: Apia International)


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