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With Stars Missing, French Open Could Be A Breakout Opportunity For Team USA

By Stuart Lieberman | May 25, 2017, 12:21 p.m. (ET)

Venus Williams plays a shot during her second-round match against Lesia Tsurenko of the Ukraine at The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2017 at Foro Italico on May 17, 2017 in Rome.


The French Open — the second of four Grand Slam events on the annual tennis calendar — will begin on Monday in Paris with three of tennis’ typical headliners missing in action.  

The sport’s most dominant woman, Serena Williams, won’t be adding a 24th career Grand Slam singles title to her résumé just yet, as she awaits the arrival of her first child later this year. The sport’s most dominant man, Roger Federer, has opted out, deciding to save his energy for the Wimbledon grass in June.

Then there’s Russian Maria Sharapova, who recently returned from a 15-month doping suspension. The five-time Grand Slam singles champion won’t be in Paris, either, after having her request for a French Open wildcard rejected by Roland Garros officials.

That opens the door for a new cast of hopefuls to make the headlines this year, including rising U.S. stars Jack Sock and Madison Keys, along with the always-present veteran ace, Venus Williams.

Here’s a look at the top U.S. prospects in the event, which will conclude with the women’s and men’s singles finals airing live on NBCSN on June 10 and 11, respectively.  

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Sock Is Coming In Hot

Jack Sock enters the French Open as the top American man with a No. 15 world ranking — one spot short of his career-high. In Paris, he’ll be looking to make it to the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam for the first time.

Nicknamed “Showtime,” the 24-year-old possesses a heavy forehand and has been the most dangerous U.S. player on clay since the early stages of his career. Two years ago, the former U.S. Open junior champion arrived in Paris with little expectations and then bulldozed through the draw to the final 16 — his best-ever Grand Slam result — before losing to Rafael Nadal in four sets.

Already in 2017, Sock has won ATP titles in Auckland and Delray Beach and reached the semifinals at Indian Wells and quarterfinals in Miami. The two-time Olympic medalist has won 35 of his past 47 matches and has risen 13 spots in the world rankings since the start of the 2016 U.S. Open last August.

An American man, however, has not won the French Open since 1999.

Following Sock, No. 22 John Isner, No. 26 Steve Johnson and No. 28 Sam Querrey round out the top U.S. contenders in the men’s singles draw.

Isner, the veteran of the group, is coming off a surprise semifinal showing last weekend in Rome. He beat world No. 8 Marin Cilic of Croatia with 21 aces in the quarterfinals to become the first U.S. player to reach the last four in the Foro Italico since Andy Roddick in 2008.

Venus Williams And Madison Keys Give Team USA Veteran And Youth Hopes

Without the younger Williams sister in Paris, the women’s singles tournament is wide open with potentially 10 to 15 players having a solid shot at the title.

At No. 11 in the world, seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Venus Williams is the top American woman in the draw and is still in search of her first French Open singles title.

January’s Australian Open marked the first trip back to a major final in more than seven years for the 36-year-old, but with clay surfaces not always in her favor, she has not reached the French Open quarterfinals since 2006.

On the younger end of the spectrum for Team USA is 22-year-old Madison Keys, who finished fourth in the Rio 2016 Olympic singles competition and currently ranks No. 13 in the world. Keys missed the first two months of 2017 after undergoing surgery on her left wrist in the offseason, but she told the Associated Press on Tuesday she’s fully recovered and eager to play in her favorite city in the world. Since she’s returned to the tour in March, Keys reached the third round at Indian Wells before making first-round exits in Charleston, Madrid and Rome.

Another youngster to keep tabs on is No. 20 Coco Vandeweghe, who despite faring better on grass is still capable of raising her game in larger tournaments, as shown by her Australian Open semifinal run in January. The 25-year-old — whose mother was a U.S. Olympic swimmer and grandfather played for the New York Knicks — recently had a breakthrough performance on clay, reaching the quarterfinals in Madrid earlier this month before losing to No. 4 Simona Halep of Romania.

Competition will also be held in men’s and women’s doubles, as well as mixed doubles and wheelchair events. The first-round draw takes place on Friday.

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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Jack Sock

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