MELBOURNE -- Nineteen-year-old Madison Keys booked her spot in the Australian Open semifinals with a hard-fought 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over Venus Williams in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. The teenager from Rock Island, Ill., overcame a mid-match leg injury to rally from a break down in the final set and break Venus three times and win the last three games of the match. With the win, Keys could make her top 20 debut when the new rankings come out on Monday.
In the first All-American Slam quarterfinal since Sloane Stephens defeated Serena Williams in Melbourne in 2013, the big-hitting teenager took advantage of a poor serving day for Venus. She broke Venus' serve seven times in the match and looked in full control in building a set lead. But a lapse in concentration early in the second set found her down a double break at 1-4 and she appeared to injure her left thigh. After taking an off-court medical timeout to get the leg evaluated and taped, Keys came out to level the set at 4-4 before getting broken in the ninth game. Venus stepped up to pocket the set in style, firing down an ace to finish off the set.
"It's been tight," Keys said of her left adductor injury, "but it's been something that with some treatment it's been fine. Then one shot in the match, all of a sudden I felt it kind of really get tight. I thought I was close to pulling it. So at that moment, I ignored it at Wimbledon and tore it, which ultimately made me have to withdraw. At that moment it was kind of a panic of, I need to get some tape on this so I don't do that again."
Venus, who won their only prior match last year on clay, continued to take advantage of the Keys' flat form in the third set, building a 3-1 lead and looking like the stronger player. But on a day when Venus served at just 51 percent first serves in, her second serve took a pounding from the Keys forehand return. As time went on, Keys lifted her level and aggression in the final set, winning five of the last six games to win the match. She finished with 34 winners to 45 unforced errors, while Venus hit 10 winners to 38 unforced errors.
"I definitely didn't serve as consistently as I wanted to," Venus said. "I felt like just not as aggressive off the ground as I would have liked. So I think in this kind of match you have to be aggressive. I give a lot of credit to her because she really set her points up. She was swinging freely."
Venus admitted to losing her concentration and momentum after Keys' lengthy medical timeout, but refuted any attempt to imply the timeout played a part in the outcome of the match. "You have to give credit where credit is due," Venus said. "She played really well. This is her moment today. I think it was pretty rare that I was able to string together three or four points without an error. That was unfortunate for me today."
This is the third straight year a teenager has made the women's semifinals in Melbourne (Stephens in 2013, Bouchard last year). "I think Genie and Sloane are both really talented and can play some really good tennis," Keys said. "It's not super surprising they made semifinals. It's one of those things when you see some of your fellow peers doing well, going deep in tournaments, it's inspirational. Makes you kind of believe that you can do the same." Inspired is the best way to describe Keys' breakout run over the last two weeks. She began her season with solid wins over Dominika Cibulkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova and has paved her own way in Melbourne. Unseeded in the tournament, she's now knocked out three seeds in No. 29 Casey Dellacqua, No. 4 Petra Kvitova, and No. 18 Venus. Regardless of the rest of her tournament, Keys will leave Melbourne as the highest-ranked teenager on the WTA Tour.
Keys will play No. 1 Serena Williams in Thursday's semifinal after Serena dispatched of No. 11 Dominika Cibulkova in a dominant performance to win 6-2, 6-2. The other semifinal features an all-Russian battle between No. 2 Maria Sharapova and No. 10 Ekaterina Makarova.
Now begins the race for Keys to get her leg fit for the match. "It's one of those things where it's probably going to hurt," Keys said. "I'm probably going to have tape on it, but I'm just going to do my absolute best and enjoy the moment."