For more than a generation of U.S. women tennis players, it's been Serena and Venus Williams, and everybody else. They have been America's Grand Slam champions, casting long shadows over a supporting cast that has never really emerged on center stage.
Serena Williams continued her surge Thursday with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Galina Voskoboeva. Venus Williams, 33, and nearing the end of her career, was gone in the second round.
But new lights have appeared on the horizon, none brighter than Sloane Stephens, the 15th seed who stormed past Urszula Radwanska in two sets in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Julie Hampton, the 23rd seed, also made it through the rain-muddled card on Wednesday to beat Kristina Mladenovic.
Thursday Christina McHale showed plenty of fight in defeating Elina Svitolina, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. And that American win was followed up by Alison Riske, a wild card, who beat No. 28 seed Mona Barthel, 6-4, 6-2.
"It's a really good atmosphere among Americans," Riske said. "I feel like there is a great support system. When another one does well, it's kind of like, 'Hey, we can all do this.' "
Riske, a Pittsburgh native and Hilton Head, S.C., resident, lost in the qualifying for the Open last year. But the 23-year-old is having her best season, starting to get into more top-tier WTA events, and is building up the confidence needed to compete at this level.
"I think this is the first year I've really felt comfortable at the U.S. Open," Riske said. "It's been pretty overwhelming before for me. I feel like I have matured a lot. I think the electricity surrounding the Open is not comparable. I think I heard my name called a hundred times today, which is pretty cool."
McHale, the Englewood Cliffs, N.J., native, was hearing her named called a thousand times on the Grandstand Court as she was locked in a tense battle with Svitolina. McHale fought off two break points in the 11th game of the third set for a 6-5 lead. She had a match point on Svitolina's serve and totally made a hash of a short ball. After fighting off Svitolina's ad point, McHale won two rallies to win the game and the match.
"I definitely think we push each other, especially at tournaments," McHale said. "It's really good to have that practice and if you see the other results, you want to be doing well, too. I think it's a healthy competitiveness that the Americans have going."
McHale commutes to the Open from New Jersey, giving her the comforts of home and the possibility of her grandmother's cooking. She is close enough to the National Tennis Center to be eligible for player transport. "Every year we have driven [ourselves]," McHale said. "This year we decided to ask [if transport] could take us. We fit within the radius. And we don't even have to pay tolls. It's amazing."
Having battled back from mononucleosis last season, she has paid her tolls. At the Open two years ago she reached the third round, and now she is there again, facing Ana Ivanovic. "I think I'm headed in the right direction," she said.