Rock Island, Ill. native Madison Keys has been a fixture on the professional women’s tennis circuit since she was barely into her teens. Now 26, the Orlando resident has compiled an impressive resume, taking five titles, compiling an impressive 80-35 Grand Slam record (including a run to the 2017 US Open final) and earning more than $13 million in prize money. Now, after a career traveling the globe, Keys is back in familiar territory playing professional tennis for the first time in Illinois as one of the star attractions of the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic. As Keys prepared to take the court in her first match, she sat down with CS to talk playing in Chicago, her work with the organization Kindness Wins, and what she wishes she could tell her 14-year-old self.
How does it feel to be playing in Chicago?
I'm very happy to be in Chicago; I haven't played in Chicago for a very long time. It's probably the closest thing to being home that can be, so I'm really happy to be here and excited to start the tournament.
Talk about your work with Kindness Wins. Why is that such an important organization for you?
For me, it was really important because I felt on a personal level, I was starting to get bombarded with negative thing after negative thing, and I wanted to be a part of shining a light on all of the good that does happen. I think a lot of the times we get the negative from every direction, 24 hours a day, [so] just to have people try to shine a light on all the good, small things that are happening on a daily basis not only makes people feel better, it also inspires people to do what they can do to show a little kindness to other people or even to themselves. I also love being a part of a group with other athletes, and the athletes that I work with are absolutely phenomenal, Mikaela Shiffrin and Oksana Masters. So it's just been fun to get to work together and have a common goal, but obviously all of us come from different walks of life, so there are so many different perspectives on how we can achieve what we're working towards.
And a follow-up question related to the wisdom you've gained on the tour over the past decade-plus: After learning everything that you've learned on tour, what word of advice would you give your 14-year-old self as you were starting to play pro tennis and preparing for this life?
Don't take it so seriously. There's going to be lots of ups and lots of downs, and learning how to weather the storm when it's the downs is probably the hardest part—and at 26, I'm still working on doing that. So I think I wish I could have taken my younger self and not put as much pressure on myself and just really enjoyed the process, and getting to travel the world and play tennis as my job. Because now I'm trying to figure that out 12 years later. I think it's just trying to find the happiness and the joy in the little things of being on the tour.
Photography by: CHRIS HYDE/GETTY IMAGES