On the latest Beyond the Baseline podcast, host Jon Wertheim talks with World No. 13 Madison Keys, who has been staying in Florida during the tennis hiatus. Keys discusses her Kindness Wins initiatives within tennis and other professional sports and how she is helping athletes at all levels understand that compassion and kindness are possible, even in the most competitive environments. Wertheim and Keys also discuss her training over the past few months, what she is expecting when tennis returns, her participation in the upcoming Charleston event and much more.
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The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Jon Wertheim: How are you pacing a return to tennis? Do you have an imaginary date in your head when we're you're gonna get back out there?
Madison Keys: I am trying to stay optimistic. I hope it's sooner rather than later. But at the same time, I think I'm trying to not get too far ahead of myself and just kind of stay in the moment. Hopefully it's soon. I would love to play some tennis this year, so hopefully we're back as quickly as we can be.
JW: It seems clear when you do come back, fans probably aren't gonna be a big part of this. What do you imagine that'll be like?
MK: I think it'll be incredibly hard. I don't think any of us have really experienced being in big stadiums or in big tournaments or anything like that with emptiness and not really being there to entertain fans live. I think that's part of what we love doing is getting out in front of people and seeing them so excited during matches or post-match or anything like that. So it's definitely going to be something that it would be probably a little bit of a learning curve on how to deal with that. But at the same time, I want to get out there and compete. And if we can get back on TV and people get to enjoy us that way, I'd be more than happy to get back out there.
JW: Would you like to call your own lines?
MK: I think that my opponents would like if I called my own lines. I am one of the most generous people when it comes to calling lines. My coach, typically, when they're standing behind me, is like that was so far out. I was like, really, I definitely thought it was like at least on the line?
JW: You know what that is to me? That is a great transition to kindness. May 22nd was Kindness Wins Day. What is that? I know what that means, but what does this mean to you?
MK: I am incredibly excited about it. It means the world to me. This is it's a new venture for us. Obviously branching off of FearlesslyGiRL and now becoming Kindness Wins and having a little bit of a broader mission. But to be able to have Kindness Wins Day is something I'm really excited about. And I think especially in a time right now when a lot of us are a bit more on edge and kind of just looking for some positive things in the world to make us smile. I'm really hoping that Kindness Wins can be one of those things.
JW: This, to your credit, has been your passion for years now. How did this become your thing? Was there one defining event where you said, I need to tackle this? How did you land on this?
MK: I really landed on this because I really just wanted to have some sort of positive put back out into the world. I felt like I had built a great platform and I had amazing fans who were incredibly supportive and some of the best fans that I could have asked for. And I felt like I had people who listened to my opinion and liked what I was thinking. And I wanted to create something, [especially] in a time where I feel like there's a lot of negativity, especially in social media and especially in sports. There's not always talks about being competitive and being kind. And I wanted to kind of shake that up and show people that it's possible to be successful and competitive and want to win, but also be a really kind-hearted person.
JW: I don't know if you saw the Last Dance. There is a basketball star who could have stood to participate in Kindness Wins Day. We won't mention his name.... Michael Jordan. But I want to keep going with that. When people say, kindness and competition aren't compatible in sports. It's all about winning. There isn't a place for kindness. What's your response? How do you push back to that?
MK: It's actually something that's pretty frustrating for me. In the past have been told multiple times, I would never be that good because I'm too nice. And that never made sense to me because the second I get onto a tennis court, I want to win just as badly as a person across the net. And I think a lot of times it's taught from such a young age that kindness and competitiveness can't be happening at the same time. And it's just, for lack of a better word, really annoying to me that that's what people think. And I wanted to not only show people all of the kindness that's happening in the world, but also highlight that people can be competitive and successful and still be kind and respectful, on a tennis court, on a basketball court or wherever you are. It's not mutually exclusive. It's very possible to have both of them at the same time.