Sapakoff: All-American progress at Family Circle Cup for Madison Keys

Madison Keys returns a shot against Lauren Davis on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Family Circle Cup on Daniel Island. Grace Beahm/Staff

Lauren Davis was ready for her Family Circle Cup quarterfinal match against longtime friend Madison Keys.

Going into Friday’s All-American clash, Davis said she knows Keys’ game “like the back of my hand.”

So informed, Keys grinned.

“She just knows everything, doesn’t she?” Keys said. “She has me figured out.”

Well, not quite.

Keys, the No. 7 seed, rolled to a 6-2, 6-2 victory, right in line with a sizzling week on what had been her least favorite surface.

This might be the start of something big for a 20-year-old full of potential, and an American tennis audience hungry for post-Williams stars.

But how to explain this new clay dominance?

“I don’t know. Just kind of happening,” said Keys, who advances to Saturday’s semifinals against qualifier Lucie Hradecka. “It’s not the easiest game for me, being on clay. But so far it’s been a pretty good transition (from hard courts) and I’ve been working on it more and more every year.”

It doesn’t matter if there is an American among the next group of WTA stars.

Except to those worried about tennis TV ratings in the U.S.

Among ranked Americans, Keys (No. 20) is the next best thing after Serena Williams (No. 1) and Venus Williams (No. 15). She has game, personality and poise.

Ideally, there are more — and more competitive — All-American matches in store this year involving Varvara Lepchenko (No. 30), Coco Vandeweghe (No. 37) and Sloane Stephens (No. 40).

Friday’s battle of 2014 Fed Cup teammates had potential. Davis, ranked No. 66 and playing in her first clay court quarterfinal, was having a great week. She upset fatigued No. 1 seed Eugenie Bouchard (6-3, 6-1) on Tuesday and got by No. 15 seed Mona Barthel (6-3, 7-6) on Thursday.

At 21, Davis is just 16 months older than Keys. They share Midwestern roots (Keys from Rock Island, Ill., Davis from Gates Mill, Ohio) and both live in Boca Raton, Fla.

There are classic contrast elements, too.

Keys is 5-10, long and lanky.

Davis is a speedy 5-2, one of the shortest players ever on tour.

She grew up liking Justine Henin, for the seven Grand Slam singles titles and because of all that grit in a smallish (5-5¾) player.

Keys attacks with a long swing and fierce baseline power game. Davis is adept at backhand winners with her tighter strokes, and merrily chases balls from the net to the wine garden.

They split their first four matches.

After a 2-2 start, it wasn’t close this time.

Keys, who made her WTA debut at 14, hasn’t been broken all week. She lost only five games in early-round wins over Kateryna Bondarenko and Andreea Mitu. Keys is looking for her second tour title, her first on clay. She hasn’t made it past the second round at Roland Garros in two appearances on the most famous red clay in the world.

It’s a different Madison Keys than the 18-year-old who surprised her way to the Family Circle Cup quarterfinals in 2013.

She lost to Venus Williams.

“I was definitely more of the underdog playing through it and hadn’t had as much success,” Keys said. “This year, I’ve been the seed; I’ve been the one who’s supposed to win. It’s a different pressure, for sure.”

This year, it looks like Keys is just scratching her new semi-favorite surface.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff