RIO DE JANEIRO — The weight of expectation is a heavy burden for any young athlete predicted to scale to the pinnacle of her profession. It felt like that here Friday night, watching the talented young American Madison Keys go down in a hard-fought heap to German veteran Angelique Kerber, the battle-tested No. 2 seed in the women’s Olympic tennis tournament.
Keys, 21, having just slipped into the pro tour’s top 10 after a stellar summer, came to the semifinals after winning a pair of tight three-set matches. But this time, her power wasn’t enough to pull through. A simple narrative sat behind the 6-3, 7-5 score: mistakes. Keys’ came in flurries. All told, she struck 41 unforced errors, many coming at the worst moments.
Still, Rio isn’t over for her yet. Keys still has a bronze-medal chance. She faces off Saturday against a two-time Wimbledon singles champ, Czech Petra Kvitova. “You can walk from this tournament and still be on a high,” Keys said. “That is what I am going to focus on.”
Rio, one can assume, will likely be a mere speed bump for the tall right-hander. Maybe it will add to the motivation that has fueled her rise steadily to No. 9 in the world. The future looks bright. Her game is maturing at an opportune time. Serena Williams remains at the top of women’s tennis, but at 34, she can’t play forever, can she?
Keys should end up leaving this electrified stage having taken another step toward joining Serena among the game’s best. Maybe Keys will one day scale to the pinnacle — No. 1. The land Serena, and before that, sister Venus, have so long owned.
But the future can wait. Right now there is Saturday — and the simple matter of a medal to be won.
“It would mean everything,” Keys said. “No matter what, I am going to go out and try to win the bronze.”