MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Making the semi-finals of the Australian Open gave Madison Keys belief she could contend with the best players in the women's game, but also made the hard-hitting 19-year-old more determined to take an extra step at the grand slams.
Keys' fairy-tale run at Melbourne Park ended with a fighting 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 loss to top seed Serena Williams at Rod Laver Arena, a performance that underlined her claim as a future standard-bearer for American tennis.
As with her quarter-final defeat of Williams' older sister Venus, Keys betrayed no nerves in the biggest match of her life and easily matched her opponent's fire-power from the baseline, if shaded by her serve and guile.
Instead, Keys flashed her toothy grin repeatedly in the contest, as if going toe-to-toe with the world No. 1 on centre court was just another new and exciting thing in the life of a teenager.
Trailing 5-1 in the second set, she saved seven match points to hold serve in an enthralling 24-point game and an eighth in the next before Williams blasted an ace to put their first ever encounter to bed.
"I think I handled the moment pretty well," Keys told reporters breezily. "I definitely had a good start, so nerves didn't totally play into that.
"I think in that situation you can almost get overwhelmed if you start focusing on Serena being on the other side of the court. So I really just tried to focus on myself and play within myself. I thought I did a pretty good job."
Williams was quick to ordain Keys, the hardest hitter in the women's game according to WTA data, a future grand slam champion and even a world No. 1.
"For me, even this week, as great as it is, I still want more," Keys said. "I think I will forever be that way. So I think for me it's just never being satisfied with what I've done and always just wanting more and more.
"It's one of those things that, those mornings you don't want to get out of bed, these are the moments that make yourself get up, go to practice, and do things like that.
"So I've definitely put in the work. I'm just really happy to see that it's paying off. Did I think it was going to happen here? Not particularly. But I'm very happy that it did."