RIO DE JANEIRO -- There will be bigger matches for Madison Keys, bigger tournaments. But on a sun-splashed afternoon at the Olympic Tennis Center, no one was going to tell the 21-year-old that going home without a shiny round piece of hardware around her neck was anything less than heartbreaking.
Keys' 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 loss to the Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova on Saturday in the women's bronze-medal match came less than 20 hours after she fell to Angelique Kerber in the semifinal. Both were equally frustrating, and both brought out the best and worst in the young American.
Against Kerber, Keys was 0-for-10 on break-point opportunities. Against another more experienced player in Kvitova, Keys was 2-for-10. And though Keys played at a high level at times against two of the hardest hitters in the game, she was sloppy, committing 90 unforced errors in those matches (41 versus Kerber; 49 against Kvitova).
Keys had a double set point on Kvitova's serve in the first set but failed to capitalize. And though Keys came back strong to win the second set, she was frustrated throughout the match, slamming her racket often.
"When I needed a point, she played her best tennis," Keys said of her bronze-medal match. "It's one of those where a point here and there could really change it, and unfortunately, I didn't win those today."
As for Kvitova, she was plagued by mono last year, a stomach illness early in 2016 and then an abdominal pull. Still, she is a two-time Wimbledon champ but has not been past the quarterfinals of a major since winning her last one in 2014. This year, she fell in the second round at the All England Club.
But Saturday, Kvitova was nimble and quick, winning 7-of-9 net chances and taking command of the final set. She broke Keys' serve in the first and third games and never looked back.
"I was preparing for the Olympics from the beginning of the season," Kvitova said. "I had so many troubles with injuries and everything. I know I love playing this kind of tournament.
"And playing for the Czech Republic is something always special for me. I just came here to do what I can. I'm so happy. I saved my best tennis for this event."
While Keys, who broke into the top 10 of the world ranking for the first time in June, has been steadily climbing toward elite status, her lone obstacle is a Grand Slam title. Red-eyed and holding back tears after both her semifinal and the bronze matches, Keys will try to benefit from this Olympic week.
"Right now, it's not super easy to see the positives, but I'm definitely going to take what I learned and use it -- use everything that happened here just as experience and ... and move on," she said.
"There were a lot of matches I could have potentially lost, and I was able to fight. Also, it is a very unique experience being a part of a team and the Olympic Village. I think it was a really, really fun experience, and I'm just going to focus on that."
Keys was not the only player who was emotional Saturday, as Kvitova told reporters that she was sorry if she broke into tears.
"This means almost everything," the Czech said. "The fact that I have a medal from the Olympics is one of the best things [to] happen in my career. I have my two Wimbledon titles, Fed Cup and WTA [Finals]. It's definitely one of the best days today, so I hope I'm going to celebrate it. And I'm very proud I could bring it to the Czech Republic.
"Unfortunately, I didn't win the gold medal, but to have a bronze, it's great. It's different [than Wimbledon]. ... It's something special."