At the Net: The time is now for Madison Keys

Philadelphia, PA ( - Madison Keys may have lost the biggest match of her young career on Thursday ... but she sure made a believer of the great Serena Williams.

The world No. 1 superstar, Serena, prevailed in a semifinal showdown at the 2015 Australian Open, which might be remembered as the tournament where a new American star -- Keys -- was born.

Serena doesn't dole out compliments to her opponents too often, but she thinks Keys "can be the best in the world." She also said, "The way she [Keys] played today, I definitely think she has potential to be No. 1 -- and win Grand Slams."

Prior to this week, Keys had never advanced beyond the third round at Grand Slam event (her 11th), but this year's Aussie marked many firsts for the 19-year-old from Chicago.

"Did I think it was going to happen here? Not particularly. But I'm very happy it did," said Keys, who won over fans with her infectious smile, sense of humor, and humble self-confidence ... not to mention her great tennis.

Under advisement from new coach Lindsay Davenport, the three-time Grand Slam champion and Tennis Hall-of-Famer, Keys stayed off Twitter and focused on her tennis at this fortnight. The advice appeared to pay off.

For the first time in her blossoming career, Keys overcame the psychological boundary of reaching the second week at a major.

En route to the final four in Melbourne, she stunned two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova in the third round and seven-time Grand Slam titlist Venus Williams in the quarterfinals to set up back-to-back matches with the veteran Williams sisters, whom Keys idolized as a youngster.

Going up against Serena marked the first time Keys had ever faced a No. 1 player -- and she made the 18-time Grand Slam champ work for her supper.

Their semifinal was staged on a windy, chilly day at Melbourne Park and was the most-hyped women's match of the tournament. The up-and-coming American teenager against her compatriot and one of the greatest champions of all-time. This time around, the great champion came out on top, in straight sets, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, but the score did not tell the whole story.

Keys was gritty, fearless, and demonstrated powerful strokes, including a big serve. She was cool enough to stave off seven match points.

"This week has definitely shown me that I can play the top players, and I can do well against them," Keys said. "I can play the No. 1 player in the world in a pretty close match."

Onlookers at Laver Arena were memorized, as tennis balls zoomed back and forth during hotly contested rallies with great speed and force.

Keys described Serena's shots like this: "It comes hard; it comes deep... she's one of the few who can hit like that."

And Serena described Keys' hitting in much the same way: "She hits a very, very hard ball, but she also hits it very deep. I wasn't ready really for that."

Keys said she'll probably save most of her $510,000 prize money but will probably allow herself one extravagant purchase, like a Louis Vuitton purse.

She will move up in the world rankings from No. 34 to No. 20 as a result of her stellar Aussie run.

Keys was asked what makes her a good tennis player (or her Keys to success), and she chalked it up to her fighting spirit.

"For me, even this week, as great as it is, I still want more," Keys said. "For me, it's just never being satisfied with what I've done and always wanting more and more."

Keys was asked if she could sum up her two-week stay in the 'Bourne with an emoji, which one would it be?

"I think pretty much just the smiley face," she said smiling, of course. "Can't go wrong with the plain old smiley face."

I think Keys is going to be doing a lot of smiling on the WTA circuit.