By Stuart Lieberman | May 24, 2018, 3:48 p.m. (ET)
Serena Williams plays a backhand during a practice session ahead of the French Open on May 24, 2018 in Paris.

 

All eyes will be on 23-time Grand Slam champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist Serena Williams when the French Open begins on Sunday in Paris.

Playing in her first Grand Slam event since the 2017 Australian Open and third tournament since giving birth to her daughter, Williams — who owns the record for Grand Slam titles in the 50-year Open Era — will be unseeded in the draw.

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 NBC on June 9 and 10, respectively.


Women’s Tournament

Williams, a three-time champion at Roland Garros since her debut there in 1998, is one title away from tying Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record of 24 wins. She has reached the final in three of her last four appearances at Roland Garros.

The 36-year-old was No. 1 in the world when she went on her 14-month maternity leave — which included medical complications — but returns to the tour at No. 453 on the WTA rankings, which is the basis for seeding in Paris. Without a seeding, she risks facing highly-ranked players in the early rounds.

Williams returned to the court briefly in March, but only made it to the third round at Indian Wells before losing to her sister, Venus, and was then ousted in the first round of the Miami Open. She withdrew from clay tournaments in Madrid and Rome after that, hoping to regain her form. She’ll be in Paris fresh off her attendance at the royal wedding.

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She and Venus will also enter the women’s doubles tournament as a wild-card entry, marking their first tournament together since winning Wimbledon in 2016.

Seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens will be the highest ranked American women in the draw at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively. Venus is still in search of her first French Open victory, with her best appearance coming back in 2002 when she made the final. Stephens, after her first career Grand Slam victory last year, put a slow start to 2018 behind her in late March with a victory at the Miami Open. As a power player often left frustrated on clay, Stephens has never made it past the fourth round in her six trips to Paris.

At No. 13, Madison Keys’ status could be in question after withdrawing from the Italian Open quarterfinals this month due to a rib injury. At No. 15, CoCo Vandeweghe will look to recreate the magic she had last month, beating Stephens and world No. 1 Simona Halep en route to making the Stuttgart Open final Germany.


Men’s Tournament

The men’s draw will be without 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and former world No. 1 Andy Murray, but if any U.S. player wants to pull a surprise, he’ll likely have to go through 10-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal to win the tournament.

The U.S., which has not had a men’s French Open winner since 1999, currently boasts 25 men in the top 200 for the first time since 2002, making it the best-represented country at that level. Team USA will be led in Paris by No. 10 John Isner, No. 13 Sam Querrey and No. 15 Jack Sock.

At 33, Isner is a proven veteran with an outside chance at his first Grand Slam title. He has gone as far as the fourth round twice in Paris, and earlier this year won the Miami Open with victories over three top-10 players: Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro and Alexander Zverev.

Querrey’s best Grand Slam performance was a semifinal appearance last year at Wimbledon, where he beat Murray. One of the best servers on the ATP Tour, the right-handed hitter became the first American man to reach the US Open quarterfinals in six years last September, but has been inconsistent thus far in 2018.

Sock, who at this time last year was the top-ranked American man, is looking to break out of a slump to regain his top-10 ranking after closing out 2017 at a career-high No. 8. Despite his lackluster performance so far this year, he came out strong in the Davis Cup and with his heavy forehand has been the most dangerous U.S. player on clay since the early stages of his career. Three years ago, the former US 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.

Competition in Paris will also be held in men’s and women’s doubles, as well as mixed doubles and wheelchair events.

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.