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The French Open Is Serena Williams’ Next Shot At History

By Stuart Lieberman | May 20, 2016, 2:13 p.m. (ET)

Serena Williams competes at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2016 on May 15, 2016 in Rome.

Later this summer, all eyes in the tennis world will be on Venus and Serena Williams in Rio de Janeiro, where the sisters plan to go for a record fourth gold medal in Olympic doubles.

Both have also won an Olympic singles gold — Venus at the Sydney 2000 Games and Serena at the London 2012 Games — and they teamed up for the first time in two years at last weekend’s Italian Open to swing their Rio doubles preparations into full gear.

But first, the illustrious tandem will head to the French Open and Wimbledon, the former of which begins on Sunday in Paris and continues through June 5, with live coverage to be broadcast on NBC and NBC Sports Network.

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

Serena Closes In On Graf’s Grand Slam Record

After falling just one victory short last September of becoming the first player to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graff in 1988, Serena Williams went through a minute title drought, if you will, to begin 2016. She lost in the finals of both the Australian Open and Indian Wells, and lost in the round of 16 at the Miami Open. She also missed the Madrid Open due to a fever.

But anyone who doubted Williams’ 2016 has now been silenced heading into the French Open, as the 21-time Grand Slam singles champion secured her first title in nine months last Sunday. The 34-year-old beat fellow American Madison Keys in straight sets to win the Italian Open, her first tournament title since last August. She did not drop a set in the tournament, and with the win she became just the fifth woman to reach 70 career singles titles.

Williams has claimed the French Open title three times previously — winning in 2002, 2013 and 2015 — and lost just one match on clay over the last year, which easily makes her the favorite in the women’s singles draw yet again. A fourth French Open victory would tie her with Graf for the most Grand Slam singles titles in the Open era at 22.

Never write off her sister when it pertains to a comeback, either. The older Williams, 35, lost in the first round of the French Open last year to compatriot Sloane Stephens, who is ready for a breakout of her own after hitting the fourth-round wall at the tournament each of the last four years.

On the other side of Serena Williams in last weekend’s All-American final in Rome — the first All-American WTA singles final since 2012 — was big-serving Keys, ranked No. 17 in the world heading into the French Open and known for playing her best tennis on clay. En route to the final, she brought down No. 5 seed Petra Kvitova, No. 3 Garbine Muguruza and three players ranked in the top 50.

Isner, Sock And Johnson Lead U.S. Men

In the French Open men’s singles draw, world No. 17 John Isner leads the American pack, followed by No. 25 Jack Sock and No. 35 Steve Johnson.

Isner, who in April said he would skip the Olympic Games, a decision he “didn’t take lightly,” has had some of his best career wins on clay, including a 2012 Davis Cup victory against Roger Federer. He owns a 10-7 singles record on the season, and lost to Sock in the semifinals of April’s U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship.

Sock loves the red clay; he made it all the way to the fourth round of the French Open last year, eventually losing to Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, and he has had respectable results on the surface in Madrid and Rome this spring. The 23-year-old, who goes by the nicknames “J. Sizzle” and “Showtime,” has recently been compared to U.S. Olympian and two-time French Open winner Jim Courier for his nurturing speed and sharp forehand.

Rounding out the top American men’s hopefuls is Johnson, who lost to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in the third round of last year’s tournament. The student of the game, a two-time NCCA champion at USC, earned his first clay court win of the season at the Geneva Open on Monday.

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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