From Serena Williams to Jack Sock, American tennis players have received their fair share of press already in 2017, and expect that attention to heighten now with the United States being the most-represented nation at this week’s Australian Open.
Twenty-five U.S. players received direct entry into the main draw in Melbourne, including 16 women and nine men. The Australian Open began Jan. 16 and continues through Jan. 29.
Here’s a look at the top U.S. prospects in the event:
At 35, Serena’s Still In The Spotlight
In the women’s draw, all eyes will be on 22-time Grand Slam champion and four-time Olympic champion Serena Williams, who will be looking to break the Open era mark for most Grand Slam victories she currently shares with Steffi Graf and who last month announced her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
Talk of Williams surpassing Graf’s mark has been constant since she completed her “Serena Slam,” holding all four Slams simultaneously in the summer of 2015. But the 35-year-old Williams has looked vulnerable ever since her shocking defeat to Italy’s Roberta Vinci in the 2015 US Open semifinal, where she lost out on claiming the first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988.
Dogged by shoulder and knee injuries, Williams lost her No. 1 ranking in 2016, playing in just eight tournaments and posting a 38-6 record, her lowest match total since 2011. She reached the final at the first three Grand Slams, but came away with the trophy only at Wimbledon.
“For me, it wasn’t a great season,” Williams told reporters at last week’s pre-tournament press conference in Melbourne. “I think for other people it would have been wonderful. For me, it wasn’t. It was what it was. I’m still hitting.”
While Williams, a six-time Australian Open champion, will be the favorite in Melbourne, she’s not the top seed. That would be Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who reached the final of three of four Grand Slams last year and beat Williams in Melbourne before losing to her at Wimbledon. No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, a former Wimbledon runner-up and Australian Open semifinalist, as well as No. 5 Karolina Pliskova, who shocked Williams in September’s US Open semifinals, could also stand in the American’s way of a seventh title down under.
For her first major test of 2017, in the first round in Melbourne, Williams will face Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, who was born less than a year before Williams made her Grand Slam debut and defeated her when they last met in Toronto in 2015.
Williams’ sister, Venus, is the only other American woman ranked in Melbourne at No. 13. Madison Keys, ranked No. 8 in the world, withdrew due to injury.
Sock Riding Wave Of Momentum Into Melbourne
The American men still hold a 14-year singles drought at Grand Slams, but Jack Sock, who last week was coined the “spin king” by CNN and had his family’s background featured in the Players’ Tribune, is steadily inching his way to the top.
The 24-year-old just won the ASB Tennis Classic on Saturday in Auckland, New Zealand, which marked the second ATP World Tour singles title of his prospering career. Sock will look to ride that wave of momentum into Melbourne, where he’s seeded No. 23.
“I’m focusing on trying to compete to win singles events,” he wrote in the Players’ Tribune. “I came close a few times last year and had some looks and chances. … The ranking will come with playing good tennis. I believe that — if I’m playing well and doing the right things — I’m a top-10 player. And I think I can get there sooner than later.”
Big server John Isner is the highest seeded American man in the tournament at No 19, but he has never hidden the fact that he favors U.S. tournaments. He’ll try to rebound from a surprise defeat in the quarterfinals at the ASB Tennis Classic last week.
Sam Querrey, who upset then world-No. 1 Djokovic in the third round of Wimbledon last year, is the other seeded American in the men’s draw at No. 31. He could potentially face No. 1 Andy Murray in the third round.
Bryan Brothers Never Underdogs In Doubles
Olympic champions and identical twins Bob and Mike Bryan might have slipped to No. 3 in the world rankings, but they should still have a shot at the doubles title as the most successful pairing in the history of the sport, having won six Australian Opens and 16 Grand Slam titles together.
Wagner The Lone American In Wheelchair Division
World No. 2 David Wagner, who already has three Australian Open quad singles titles to his name, will be the only U.S. player in the wheelchair field in Melbourne. He’s just one of two previous event champions taking the court and will be heavily challenged by the host nation’s world No. 1 Dylan Alcott, who won two gold medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and will be aiming for his third straight Australian Open title.
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.