One year ago, Madison Keys was sitting in the players lounge in Madrid doing her math homework on a laptop. The 18-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida, had lost in qualifying and was already thinking about moving on to the Italian Open.
"I get a text message that says: 'Go change, you're on in 10 minutes,'" Keys said last week from Madrid. "I didn't even know who I was playing. I found that out five minutes before going out on the court."
The opponent was Li Na, who as the 2011 French Open champion was a formidable adversary on clay.
Keys, a truly lucky loser, beat Li in straight sets.
"Your head is so clear because you have no time to think about it," Keys said. "I definitely think it was an advantage. It was my biggest win, for sure, and on red clay. It was a huge thing for me, knowing I can really compete with someone ranked so high."
Keys, along with Sloane Stephens, played singles for the United States in the recent Fed Cup playoff loss to France. Keys arrived in Spain last Tuesday for the Mutua Madrid Open. ESPN3 will provide nearly 170 hours of coverage of the event.
It was a tough draw for Keys in Madrid; on Sunday, she fell to No. 11 seed Ana Ivanovic in the first round, 6-1, 7-6 (4).
Keys began the season quickly, reaching the semifinals in Sydney (after beating Simona Halep in the first round), and she finds herself with a healthy 12-10 record for the year. She'll play Rome and the French Open before hitting the grass circuit. Her power game travels well to the green venues; she won six of nine matches last year on grass.
ESPN.com chatted with Keys as she was preparing in Madrid.
ESPN.com: Your parents are both attorneys. How did you wind up playing tennis?
Madison Keys: I got into tennis differently than most people. When I was 4 years old, I wanted a tennis dress. My parents wouldn't buy it for me unless I actually played tennis. I figured anything to get that dress. I was also dancing at the time. I did that until I was 10, when the teacher wanted me to do more recitals and stuff. I had to make a decision, and I chose tennis. I fell in love with it and couldn't imagine doing anything else.
ESPN.com: What are the best and worst things about being a professional tennis player?
Madison Keys: The best part is being able to travel so much and meet so many different people. You get to see all of the world, which not very many people get to do, especially at the age of 19. The worst part? Sometimes it gets a little bit lonely with all the travel. I have two younger sisters and an older sister, too. Sometimes I get homesick and I go back spend a day at home. Then I'm like, 'OK, I can leave again.'
ESPN.com: Your bio says you admire Roger Federer more than any other player. Why?
Madison Keys: He has such a class about him. He's so positive the way he plays on the court, you can tell he just loves being out there.
ESPN.com: You're still a teenager and ranked No. 44 in the world. In your mind, are you on schedule?
Madison Keys: I'm definitely happy with the direction that I'm going, but in no way am I content with where I am. I want to keep getting better and work my way up higher in the rankings.
ESPN.com: What, specifically, needs to improve?
Madison Keys: I've been really working on my movement -- which isn't a secret, but that needs to be worked on. Also, putting points together and making smart shots and avoiding bad decisions. It would be great to get to the second week of the Grand Slams and make that jump from the top 50 to the top 20.