Madison Keys, 21, of Rock Island, Illinois, is an upcoming star for American women’s tennis.
Turning pro in 2009 at the age of 14, Keys became one of the youngest tennis players to win a match on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour by defeating then-world-number-81 Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia.
Now in her first Olympics, she looks to brighten up her trophy case with a medal.
In her third-round match on Tuesday, seventh-ranked Keys faced off with ninth-ranked Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain.
Many United States flags were waving during her match on Center Court at Olympic Park.
Forced to another three-set match, Keys outlasted Suarez Navarro 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, earning herself a trip to the quarterfinals in her Olympic debut, which occurred Thursday night.
“Madison is the one,” said George Kanuck of Austin, Texas, who came to watch the young American in her third-round match. “She (Keys) is the next-up-and-comer on the women’s side. Only being 21-years old, she has plenty of time to mature, and she will only get better each year.”
Seven years after her pro debut, Keys found herself making history in 2016, becoming the first American woman to become ranked in the top ten for the first time since Serena Williams in 1999.
Third-round spectator Andrew Harrison of Boston, Massachusetts, said he watched Keys building her way to the top through her Grand Slam performances.
“I remember seeing her breakthrough performance at the 2015 Australian Open,” he said. “That’s when the world got their first taste of her.”
Then-unranked Keys battled her way to the quarterfinals in the 2015 Australian Open and found herself looking at a head-to-head battle with seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams.
Keys battled her way to an upset, taking down the oldest Williams sister 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.
In the semifinals, she was paired up against 22-time Grand Slam champion and world number one Serena Williams.
Keys dropped the first set in a tie breaker 7-6(5) and then lost the second set 6-2.
After Keys’ loss, Serena said in the press conference that she was proud to play a future number-one player.
This is when Keys started to become better known to tennis fans, and today, she has earned herself a world-number-nine ranking.
Two former American world-number one players, Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport, have been on the radar for many years during their career.
The comparison that Keys is the next Serena Williams is a tough one to make at the moment, however, because Williams had already earned four Grand Slam titles by her 22nd birthday.
Keys’ current best finish in a Grand Slam was a semi-final trip in the 2015 Australian Open, where she fell to Serena in straight sets.
Former four-time year-end world-number-one player and former coach of Keys, Lindsay Davenport, had a similar game plan: an explosive forehand.
Davenport won the Olympic Gold medal in 1996 in Atlanta at 20 years old and then her first Grand Slam two years later at the U.S Open.
Although Keys is still chasing her first Grand Slam, she is currently making a strong run in her first Olympic appearance and is the lone American left in the draw, advancing to the semi-finals on Friday.
Keys has been making strides during her career, ending her rookie year ranked 621 in the world.
Three years later, according to stats available through the WTA, at 17-years-old, Keys jumped to 149 in the world, and she made the largest jump of her career by the conclusion of the 2013 season, finishing number 37.
Moving up in rankings each year of her career, Keys is nearing the top five.
Harrison, said she is a future top-five player.
“A few of the women ranked higher than her are getting older, and I’m not sure how long they will be playing, but we will be seeing her [Keys] in the top five before we know it,” he said.
Keys fell to Angelique Kerber of Germany in straight sets on Friday night. She will be competing for bronze Saturday afternoon.
Cory Craig is a Ball State University student and writer for BSU at the Games, a group of 50 journalism students traveling from Muncie, Indiana, to Rio for the Olympic Games. Follow them at bsuatthegames.com, @bsuatthegames on Twitter and Instagram, and facebook.com/bsuatthegames on Facebook.