When four American women made it to the semi-finals of the US Open, the first time in 32 years, it held a significance that would outlast the weekend of patriotic hysteria that was set to follow. Sloane Stephens, and runner-up Madison Keys, finally realised their potential and met the heavy expectations of their predecessors as they ousted Coco Vandeweghe and Venus Williams, one half of the most decorated sibling duo in the history of tennis, to set up the first all-American US Open final since 2002. For both Stephens and Keys, their unexpected run to the US Open final were highly impressive individual triumphs in their own right; in July, Stephens returned after 11 months out injured and in August her ranking dropped to 957 as she struggled reacclimatise. Following her win at Flushing Meadows she’s risen to 17th in the world. Keys missed the Australian Open after undergoing wrist surgery and recurring injury problems limited her playing time throughout the season. At the start of the season, their chances of winning a major would’ve seemed near impossible. But more importantly than individual destiny and redemption realised, the future of American tennis was finally solidified.
“With very little success to celebrate outside of the Williams’ stronghold, anxiety has hung heavily over the future of American tennis.”
Before this year’s US Open, there hadn’t been an American female champion at Flushing Meadows not named Williams since 1998. It’s a terrific advertisement for the mark of the Williams sisters on not just American tennis, but tennis in general. But simultaneously it portrayed a lack of depth too. The same could be said for the men’s game; the last American male Grand Slam winner was Andy Roddick in 2003. In the past, America has been a dominant force with the rivalry of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors igniting the 1980s and Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras winning 26 majors between them from 1990 to 2003. The Williams sisters, especially Serena, have been an ever-present force in the game since Serena’s first Grand Slam win in 1999 and for the entirety of the 21st century they have been practically the lone shining lights of American tennis.
With very little success to celebrate outside of the Williams’ stronghold, anxiety has hung heavily over the future of American tennis. On the men’s side, John Isner has remained consistently within the top 30 for some years now with this year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist Sam Querrey and the young Jack Sock also breaching the top 20 this season. Their efforts have been admirable but they are far off the glories of their predecessors. On the women’s side, Jennifer Capriati provided brief hope with three Grand Slams between 2001 and 2002 before injuries derailed her career.
“Altogether there are 14 female Americans in the top 100, a barometer of American female tennis’ great health.”
With Stephens and Keys returning to the Grand Slam frame, Vandweghe going from strength to strength and a 37-year old Venus Williams defying age in a similar fashion to the Swiss swan Roger Federer, the future of American tennis is female. And let’s not forget the currently absent Serena Williams, who gave birth at the start of September; she’s still hanging in at no.22 despite missing three majors this season. She currently remains favourite to defend her title at the Australian Open next January. Altogether there are 14 female Americans in the top 100, a barometer of American female tennis’ great health. Perhaps the most exciting is 18-year old Catherine Bellis, who currently sits at no.41 in the rankings. As Venus re-enters the top 5 for the first time in seven years and Serena looks set to make a mammoth return to the game next season, the immediate future may still belong to the ubiquitous Williams. But when they do finally put away their racquets for good, it looks like there will be plenty of great American players ready to fill the void.