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How Two Madisons Threw A Curveball At The Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Maybe this fourth-round match should be moved to Madison, Wisconsin. Although, on second thought, it might be a little difficult playing in sub-freezing temperatures on a snow-covered court.

So perhaps Margaret Court Arena should just be temporarily renamed Madison Square Garden instead. Then again, Australian Open folks probably would be resistant to such an idea, especially since Monday is Australia Day (the equivalent of our Fourth of July).

Still, they should at least sell Dolly Madison zingers, cupcakes and donut gems in the concession stands or President James Madison hoodies in the merchandise shop. Because something should be done to properly acknowledge Monday's historic match between Americans Madison Keys and Madison Brengle.

This not only is the first meeting of two players named Madison in the main draw of a Grand Slam, it is likely the greatest matchup of Madisons since San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner dated a girl named ... Madison Bumgarner. Yes. That's true.

"That's really weird,'' Brengle said. "That's really weird.''

Not that either Keys or Brengle is very familiar with sports' most famous Madison. In fact, when asked about Bumgarner this week, neither had heard of the 2014 World Series MVP and Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year. "I don't know who you're talking about,'' Keys said.

Well, that's understandable. Keys and Brengle have more important things to focus on than an athlete in another sport. Such as improving their game and moving up in tennis. And each trying to be the only Madison in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

The two frequently share photos, including one that Brengle sent to Keys before her third-round match Saturday that showed two girls, one under a door and one sitting on top of the door with the accompanying caption: "There can only be one.''

"She was all excited before the match,'' Keys said. "She was like, 'You have to win so we can recreate this picture.'"

The Brengle book

Brengle is a couple of months shy of her 25th birthday. She has been playing tennis since she was 2 years old. She played her first professional match 10 years ago and her first Grand Slam eight years ago. Saturday afternoon she beat Coco Vandeweghe to advance to the fourth round of a major for the first time and lift her winnings here to $128,000, nearly as much as she made all last season.

So what was her parents' reaction back home in Delaware? Well, her father, Dan, had slept through the match (Brengle says he gets too nervous to watch). Her mother, Gaby, however, was eagerly awaiting the call so that she could ask Madison the question that was so important after such a momentous victory:

Did you get me another Aussie Open souvenir towel?

"My mom is just obsessed with the towels,'' Brengle said. "'Did you get another towel?' 'Mom, I won!' And she's like, 'But the towels.' So, all right, got our priorities straight.''

After all, those towels do sell for as much as $70 in the merchandise store here.

Brengle won a match in the main draw of a major for the first time at the 2014 US Open, reached the final at the Hobart International earlier this month, upset Andrea Petkovic in the first round here and moved from No. 153 at the end of 2013 to inside the top 50 for the first time in her career with Saturday's match.

And all this despite having a cancerous growth removed from her leg in October that kept her off the court for five weeks. Brengle is very careful about lathering on the sunscreen, but it doesn't always prevent damage. She also had a scare during that same stretch with a growth in her jaw before doctors finally determined it was benign after weeks of worry.

"It was very stressful. I lost a lot of sleep,'' Brengle said. "There was a lot going on. That's why I'm so happy that I'm totally clear and I can put it all behind me.''

A cancer diagnosis is never a good thing, but the required break might have been beneficial given how many matches Brengle played last year and how hard she worked her body.

"It gives you a different perspective,'' said new coach and longtime friend Phillip Simmonds. "Whether you're a success in juniors or not, you're just so accustomed to playing. So just the thought of not playing scares you straight a little bit. She was working hard before, but I think [it's refreshing] to have the opportunity to play and compete and do something she really loves doing versus having her body scanned for cancer.

"I think she took that and ran with it. She's been having a lot more fun. She is laughing on the court, and she wants to check out the sights. And I think that keeps you more grounded rather than being so ingrained in the tennis 24/7. You kind of lose yourself and start to think of this as a given rather than a blessing and an opportunity.''

And as a chance to keep collecting towels.

"I just think [my mom] really likes the Slam towels,'' Brengle said. "I'm trying to get as many towels as I can, so I have to try to keep winning.''

The name game

It's not that common for players with the same first name to play each other in a Slam. Maria Sharapova and Maria Kirilenko played each other at last year's US Open and the 2010 Aussie. Andy Murray played Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in 2009 and 2006. There is no database to check such a thing, but other same-name matchups don't immediately jump out at you. (Although their careers overlapped briefly, Martina Navratilova and Martina Hingis never played each other in singles.)

For that matter, with so many players from so many countries, there aren't that many players on the tour who share the same first name (the Petras, Carolines, Monicas), especially if you require the spelling to be exact (Elena and Elina? Ana and Anna?). It's definitely doubtful we'll be seeing any Venus-Venus, Coco-Coco or Eugenie-Eugenie matches anytime soon. Or later.

"I have never met anyone with my own name,'' Bouchard said, "so that will never happen.''

The Keys file

While Brengle followed up her third-round victory by talking with her mother about towels, Keys found it difficult just to speak at all following her win. When the on-court announcer asked about her upset of Petra Kvitova, Keys was so overcome by the biggest win of her career that the announcer had to prompt her to keep talking.

"I'm so happy. I cannot believe that I just did that,'' Keys said. "I've been wanting to be in the second week of a Slam for [so] long and being actually able to do it, I'm still beyond words.''

She might have been waiting a long time, but Keys is still very young. She is just 19 (she turns 20 next month), two years younger than more heavily touted American Sloane Stephens. She also is so young that she hadn't even been born when Venus Williams played her first WTA tournament.

Keys has been considered one of the possible heirs to Venus and Serena, but like Stephens, she has been inconsistent -- this is the first tournament in which she has won three matches since Eastbourne in June 2014 -- though unlike Stephens, she hasn't had a lot of success in Slams. Until now. Keys was very impressive in upsetting Kvitova, overpowering her with her serve and groundstrokes, which clocked in the high 70s. Which was not surprising. Keys' average groundstroke at last year's French Open was 80 mph. That not only was the fastest among the women in the tournament, it was the fastest among the men as well.

Clearly, this is someone with the physical talent to go far. She also now has someone coaching her who knows exactly what it takes mentally to be a champion: Lindsay Davenport, an Olympic gold medalist, three-time Grand Slam champion and eight-time world No. 1.

"She's kind of got four different hats on here,'' Keys said. "She has her kids. She's working for Tennis Channel. She's helping me. She has seniors that she's been -- sorry, not seniors -- legends! She's awesome. She's been really helpful. I'm really happy to be working with her.''

Brengle and Keys played once before in a qualifying round before the 2012 US Open, with Keys winning. Not that either remembered the match -- Keys didn't even know how old she was when they played.

Keys is five years younger than Brengle but she will be the favorite in their match. "I don't think it changes anything,'' Keys said. "I still have to go out. I'm still going to have a game plan. I'm going to go out and I'm going to try to execute it. At the end of the match, win or lose, hopefully I can come off the court and say I executed really well.''

And not be so overwhelmed that she can't have a good interview with the court announcer.

A future full of Madisons?

This might be the first Madison match in a Grand Slam main draw, but we might see more Madison matchups in the future, and not necessarily between Keys and Brengle. "It's a pretty popular name,'' Keys said. "I hear it a lot when walking through grocery stores.''

In fact, there is already another Madison in tennis, though 17-year-old Maddison Inglis of Australia spells her name with two D's and is currently way down the rankings at 773.

"I think there will be a lot of Madisons because Keys and I are like the oldest Madisons right now. Our parents might have started the trend,'' Brengle said. "There are quite a few in the younger generation with our names. It's really common in the States right now. I hear it a lot, someone going, 'Maddie! Maddie!' and I'll turn around and someone is, like, talking to a 5-year-old.

"Yeah, there's going to be a lot of them.''

And perhaps one will go on to challenge Bumgarner for Madison athletic success.