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Serena Williams Leads U.S. Tennis Players Into French Open

By Stuart Lieberman | May 21, 2015, 2:39 p.m. (ET)

Serena Williams returns a shot during her women's singles match against Alize Lim of France at the French Open at Roland Garros on May 25, 2014 in Paris.

The French Open has traditionally been tough to master for U.S. men.

Since the inception of the annual Roland Garros tournament in Paris more than a century ago, only two American men have won multiple French Open singles titles. Although U.S. men have won the tournament 11 times, no American man has won the tournament since Andre Agassi in 1999.

The American women have fared better on the orange clay. Seven U.S. women have claimed the trophy more than once, and in total U.S. women have won 28 singles titles.

Olympic champion Serena Williams has two of those titles, in 2002 and 2013, and she’ll look to add a third when the event starts on Sunday. Television coverage in the United States will be on ESPN, The Tennis Channel and NBC, with NBC carrying the women’s final on June 6 and the men’s final on June 7, starting at 9 a.m. ET both days.

Here’s a look at the U.S. prospects in the event.

After Disappointing 2014, Williams Is Taking No Chances

Serena Williams serves during her women's singles match against Garbine Muguruza of Spain at the French Open at Roland Garros on May 28, 2014 in Paris.

Although clay is not known to be Williams’ best surface — it mitigates some of her power off the ground — she is still taking many precautions in attempt to win her second Roland Garros trophy in three years and third consecutive Grand Slam title.

The world No. 1 and WTA reigning champion pulled out of her third-round match in a tournament last week in Rome because of an elbow injury that bothered her while serving. By doing so, she hopes to avoid another early exit in Paris, having won only four games in her second-round loss against Spain’s Garbine Muguruza last year.

“I was really injured last year, actually, and ended up taking like five days off before Paris and practicing just a day or two before the tournament started,” Williams told the Associated Press. “And entering a Grand Slam, you never want to enter it like that, especially as defending champion.

“I’ve learned from some things in the past. If I continue to play, it could not only hurt my chances for Roland Garros, but maybe for Wimbledon.”

Williams, 34, won her 19th Grand Slam title earlier this year at the Australian Open to surpass Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova for the second-most Grand Slam titles among women. Only Steffi Graff, who won 22, has more Grand Slam titles.

Meanwhile, it has been seven years since her sister, Venus, has won a Grand Slam singles title, and 13 years since she has reached the French Open final.

At January’s Australian Open, Venus was stunned in the quarterfinals by unseeded American rising star Madison Keys. Coached by Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport, Keys entered the WTA Top 20 for the first time in her career in February, fittingly the same month she turned 20 years old.

The aforementioned Americans are ranked No. 15 and 16 in the world, respectively, heading into the tournament.

Reigning tournament champion Maria Sharapova and runner-up Simona Halep are expected to be the biggest international contenders in Paris, with clay being the best surface for both.

Isner Looking To Break Through Fourth Round

John Isner in action against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters tennis at the Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 16, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.

Heading into the French Open, big server John Isner is the highest-ranked American man on the ATP Tour and is looking to get past the fourth round of the tournament for the first time.

The 30-year-old right-handed hitter is still known around the world as the marathon man of tennis, having defeated France’s Nicolas Mahut in 11 hours and five minutes over three days at Wimbledon in 2010, which still stands as the longest professional tennis match in history. He also played the 10th-longest singles match in the second round of the 2012 French Open, losing to France’s Paul-Henri Mathieu in 5 hours 41 minutes.

With a stacked men’s field that includes nine-time French Open winner and king of clay Rafael Nadal, as well as world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Isner will be hoping for a bit of the same luck he had in March, when he correctly picked Wisconsin over Kentucky and Duke over Michigan State in his NCAA Final Four bracket.

Bryan Brothers Still Shining In Doubles

Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan in action against Juan Sebastian Cabal of Columbia and Adrian Mannarino of France in their doubles match during the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament at the Caja Magica on May 7, 2015 in Madrid.

America’s favorite tennis tandem and London 2012 Olympic champions Bob and Mike Bryan will be serving for their third French Open men’s doubles title, having last won in 2013.

The identical twins are ranked second in the world, but the spotlight has slowly been shifting to fellow American Jack Sock, who won a maiden Grand Slam doubles championship at Wimbledon last year with Canadian partner Vasek Pospisil.

Sock, with a 13-3 doubles record and 10-4 combined singles and doubles mark on clay this season, suddenly finds himself fifth in the world in doubles, in addition to being the second-ranked U.S men’s singles player.

However, it’s been a roller-coaster kind of start to 2015 for the in-form 22-year-old. Sock was forced to miss the first two months of this season and the Australian Open due to a torn pelvis muscle that required surgery.

But he believes that happened for a reason.

His brother Eric, a tennis coach and former collegiate player at the University of Nebraska, was diagnosed with Lemierre’s syndrome at that same time. Jack Sock was recovering at home with his family at the time, and was able to be with his brother for what was an almost near-death experience.

“When you’re out there and you get frustrated missing a ball or whatever it is, you can kind of think what he’s been through, almost not making it to a kind of miraculous recovery,” Sock told the ATP.

“Kind of puts things in perspective. Just go out there and enjoy it, and you can play a little more free.”

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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