Serena Williams remains the biggest-name among the American women left in the U.S. Open draw, but she’s hardly alone.
Eleven American women advanced to the third round of America’s Grand Slam tournament, and 10 were still alive as of late Friday afternoon.
Billie Jean King, for whom the USTA National Tennis Center is named, likes the odds for an American woman to win the title on Sept. 12.
“I thought it would happen when I saw the draw,” King said Friday on ESPN. “I really felt this was our chance in America to make sure we have an American champion.”
This U.S. Open is unique due to the pandemic and the fact that six of the top 10 women in the world opted to sit out the tournament, including world No. 1 Ash Barty of Australia, No. 2 Simona Halep of Romania and No. 6 Bianca Andreescu of Canada, who beat Serena in last year’s final.
Karolina Pliskova, the No. 1 seed from the Czech Republic, was bounced in the first round.
“The USTA’s done an amazing job just to have a U.S. Open, but also not having people in the showcase courts like they usually do, is going to make it harder on the higher-ranking players and I think it’s going to help the lesser-ranked,” King said.
Serena, the No. 3 seed, will continue her bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title on Saturday when she faces 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens of the U.S., one of several former major champions still in the draw. That match will happen in the third round but has the feel of a quarterfinal or semifinal.
“Well, she’s a great competitor,” Serena said. “It’s an incredibly interesting match, because she’s actually a US Open champion. She’s a great player. You can’t win a Grand Slam and not be really, really, really, really, really good.”
Also in that section with Stephens and Williams are No. 7 Madison Keys, a runner-up at the Open in 2017, and No. 22 Amanda Anisimova, who got past 16-year-old American Katrina Scott on Thursday.
A year ago, the 19-year-old Anisimova withdrew from the tournament just before it began due to the death of her father Konstantin, to a heart attack. She said she felt his presence in Louis Armstrong Stadium against Scott.
“Today I definitely could feel a lot of the energy from him, and thinking of him just made me want to play and keep going and I definitely got more energy from that,” Anisimova said on ESPN. “Having him in spirit just really lifted me up and helped me turn the match around.”
Sofia Kenin, the No. 2 seed and reigning Australian Open champ, sits at the bottom of the draw and could face Williams, Stephens or Keys in the quarterfinals. Caty McNally, Coco Gauff’s doubles partner, is also in Kenin’s section.
Kenin was born in Moscow, but raised in Florida. She is coached by her father Alex, who first brought his family to New York from Russia, where he went to computer school by day and drove a cab at night.
Kenin said she sometimes feels overlooked among all the other young American players.
“Yeah, definitely sometimes I did feel I was overlooked, I wasn’t really taken serious, different things,” she said. “Yeah, I just didn’t want to focus on that. Obviously I wasn’t focused on that. I’m there to play for myself. My dad is with me by my side.”
The top half of the draw, meantime, features several American women, including Jen Brady, the former UCLA standout who won the Top Seed Open last month in Kentucky, as well as Shelby Rogers, Madison Brengle and Jessica Pegula. Rogers and Brengle were slated to square off Friday, while Pegula was to meet two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
No. 28 Brady next faces two-time major champion and No. 17 seed Angelique Kerber with a spot in the quarterfinals on the line.
Brady said the success of the American women serves as a motivating factor for all of them.
“There’s so many of us, I think American women’s tennis is so deep,” Brady told Rennae Stubbs on ESPN. “There’s so many even in the top 50. It’s so good to see other Americans doing well.
“And I think like every other country, when you see one of your fellow countrywomen or countrymen doing well, you kind of build off of it and you kind of push each other.”