For two decades, Serena and Venus Williams have carried the banner for American women’s tennis.
In solid support, Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati were major championship winners. But those two players have come and long gone.
Venus Williams soldiers on here at the U.S. Open 20 years after she made her debut and Serena is back in Florida expecting her first child.
There’s been a long wait for other American women to step up. And while it’s way too early to say that major steps have been taken, there is some encouragement to be gained by the play of American women at this Open.
“I think we are in the best place that we have been in 15 years,” said Martin Blackman the other day. Blackman is the USTA’s general manager of player development. “We have had the luxury of having Serena and Venus lead the way for so long, but now we’ve got players like Madison [Keys] and CoCo [Vandeweghe], and Sloane [Stephens] is healthy, and then so many other young players that are coming up and playing well. So I think we are really poised to have two or three more women that are going to be in the second week of Grand Slams and could potentially get to the last weekend.”
There were 23 American women entered in the Open draw of 128 and seven are through to the third round.
On Thursday, Keys, at 15th the highest seeded American, defeated Tatjana Maria, 6-3, 6-4. Vandeweghe, the 20th seed playing on Ashe Stadium Thursday night, defeated Ons Jabeur 7-6 (6), 6-2.
Keys’ best result in five previous Opens is the fourth round of 2015 where she lost to Serena Williams. “There’s a lot of talent right now,” said Keys. “I think it’s exciting. It’s always nice to see new, fresh faces.”
Vandeweghe had never made it past the second round at Flushing Meadows in eight prior appearances, so this is a personal best.
Two other Americans defeated seeded players — Shelby Rogers beating No. 25 Daria Gavrilova 7-6 (6), 4-6, 7-6 (5) and Jennifer Brady beating No. 23 Barbora Strycova 6-1, 6-1.
Stephens is back, healthy and playing some solid tennis. She returned to competition at Wimbledon in July after missing nearly 11 months with a foot injury that required surgery.
The French Open girls title was a battle between Americans, with Whitney Osuigwe defeating Claire Liu. Liu then won the Wimbledon girls title.
“I feel good about the younger ones coming up, too,” said Ola Malmqvist, head of women’s tennis development for the USTA. “I think we have the U.S. Open junior champ [Kayla Day last year], Wimbledon junior champ, French Open junior champ and a couple of finalists in there, too. We have a lot of good young players that hopefully in the future will be able to back them up and get more names outside of the Williamses winning Grand Slams.”
It helps that the American players have a certain camaraderie in a one-against-one sport. “We’re all friends,” said Keys. “I hope we root for each other or else we’re going to have to send some text messages out later.”