Melbourne: 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` fairytale run at Melbourne Park ended with a fighting 7-6(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 firepower 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 number one 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 number one.
"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."