Tennis

American teen Keys looked up to Venus as a toddler

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP)

As a 4-year-old she watched Venus Williams playing on TV and fell in love with her dress.

So began the tennis career of young Madison Keys.

''I really wanted a tennis dress,'' said a smiling Keys, now 17. ''My parents told me that if I played, they would buy me one. I was like, `Hey, I'll try it.'''

Keys now has a closet full of tennis dresses and enough talent to have reached the third round at the Australian Open on Wednesday.

Ranked 105th and playing with a wild-card entry, Keys powered through the second round beating 30th-ranked Tamira Paszek 6-2, 6-1 in just 56 minutes - drawing accolades from people who are now watching her play.

One of them was retired three-time Grand Slam winner and fellow American Lindsey Davenport, who thinks that Keys has ''incredible potential.''

''Best hope I've seen for US since Williams,'' Davenport tweeted, not clarifying if she meant the 32-year-old Venus - who owns seven Grand Slam titles - or younger sister Serena who has 15.

Keys broke into a big smile and blushed when told of Davenport's appraisal.

''It makes me really happy,'' said the teenager. ''I've been working really hard. I think it's starting to show.''

After her match, Keys was ushered into the main players' press conference room at Melbourne Park, which is usually reserved for top players or the people who beat them.

A bit awestruck by the attention, Keys explained that her introduction to tennis was ''complete luck.''

Both her parents are lawyers and nobody in her family plays tennis, but she loved it from the moment she picked up a racket at 4-years-old, she said.

''Every single day, my parents fed me balls. Eventually it turned into having a coach, and then it went to being at an academy,'' she said, adding shyly, ''You know, it worked out pretty well.''

Keys turned pro on her 14th birthday, Feb. 17, 2009 and made her debut at Ponte Vedra Beach, where she became the 7th youngest player to win a main draw match and the youngest since Martina Hingis in 1994.

At 16 years old she played her first Grand Slam at the 2011 U.S. Open, becoming the youngest and - at 455th - the lowest-ranked woman in the draw. She made it the second round and then won a wildcard into last year's Australian Open where she lost in the first round.

This year's Australian Open is her third Grand Slam and her best result so far.

She faces a tough test in the third round against Wimbledon semifinalist and No. 5-seed Angelique Kerber of Germany who beat Luci Hradecka in the second round 6-3, 6-1.

Unlike the jitters she felt at the U.S. Open, Keys said she feels more confidence now.

''My first U.S. Open main draw, it was a big stadium and I wasn't really used to it,'' she said. ''But I feel good about this one so far.''

Her former idol, 32-year-old Venus Williams, had a good day, too, advancing to the third round after beating Alize Cornet of France 6-3, 6-3.

Asked what it feels like to have younger players look up to her, Venus laughed.

''I'm fighting the wrinkles and I'm fighting the battle of the bulge and everything,'' Williams responded. ''I'm still slim and trim, thank you God.''

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BATTLE FOR NO. 1: The women's No. 1 ranking will be decided at the Australian Open.

The contenders are top-ranked Victoria Azarenka, No. 2 Maria Sharapova and No. 3 Serena Williams.

Azarenka needs to reach the final to have a shot at staying on top. She first claimed the top-ranking after winning last year's Australian Open and is guaranteed to keep it for her 48th week until the tournament ends.

Sharapova and Williams also need to reach the final to have a shot at unseating Azarenka.

Four-time major winner Sharapova made a four-week return to the No. 1-spot in June after completing a career Grand Slam by winning her first French Open title. She became the first Russian to reach the top-ranking in August 2005 and has held the spot for 21 non-consecutive weeks during her career.

Serena is well-acquainted with the top spot, having spent 123 weeks during her career at No. 1. The 15-time Grand Slam winner is seeking her fifth Australian Open trophy.

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BOWLED OVER: When he wasn't playing tennis, India's Somdev Devvarman ducked over to the historic Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The 551st-ranked player described himself as ''a huge cricket fan.''

''Obviously growing up in India, we didn't have a choice but to watch cricket,'' the 27-year-old joked.

On his rest day after winning in the first round at Melbourne Park, Devvarman popped across the railway tracks to the 100,000-seat M.C.G. for a photo shoot at a place he'd seen many times on TV.

''There's a lot of history over there,'' he said, adding that he had fun visiting one of cricket's most famous venues and the on-site museum where be browsed through the old bats and balls and saw statues of some of his favorite cricket players.

There was one thing missing among the statues, he said: ''I wish there were a few Indians over there, too.''

Devvarman exited in the second round after losing a four-hour, four-set battle against No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz of Poland, 6-7 (10), 3-6, 6-1, 6-0, 7-5.

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