For some time now, tennis fans have regarded the Williams sisters as the only players on the tour from the United States who can be taken seriously in singles (the USA has some exceptional doubles players). When Melanie Oudin made her remarkable, Russian-crushing run in the 2009 U.S. Open, the home crowd had a lot to cheer about, but that was a one-time phenomenon. Suddenly, though, players from the USA are all over the 2011 draw.
Yesterday, Christina McHale upset 8th seed Marion Bartoli. As if that weren't enough, Irina Falconi upset 14th seed Dominika Cibulkova. Today, Sloane Stephens beat Israeli star Shahar Peer, the 23rd seed, in straight sets, and Vania King--who had already beaten Greta Arn--just about ran over Jarmila Gajdosova, defeating her 6-2, 6-0.
It should also be noted that today, Serena Williams had a 6-0, 6-1 win over Michaella Krajicek. It's probably safe to say that no serious tennis observer predicted that five women from the USA would make it to the third round of the U.S. Open. Here is their third round draw:
Vania King (who, with partner Yaroslava Shvedova, won the 2010 Wimbledon and U.S. Open doubles championships) will play world number 1 and top seed Caroline Wozniacki. King, like Wozniacki, is a defensive player, and will have her hands full in long rallies against Wozniacki.
Williams plays Victoria Azarenka, who defeated Gisela Dulko tonight. When they played each other in Toronto last month, Williams got the job done in straight sets, but Azarenka is a worthy opponent who could present Williams with her first challenging match.
Stephens plays Ana Ivanovic, who received a walkover in the second round from Petra Cetkovska. Stephens has a good first serve and a good forehand and can hit the ball really well. She was also a doubles star in juniors, so she knows how to volley. But she has a day to think about what she has done, and one can't help but wonder whether, at some point, the reality of her success will weigh on her. On the other hand, her opponent was once feared but is now somewhat vulnerable.
McHale will play Maria Kirilenko in the evening in Arthur Ashe Stadium. I don't think that the big stage is going to bother her, but she may have other worries. Kirilenko, the "other Russian," is a player with a lot of variety who hits deceptively well, but who has perhaps never met her potential. On a good day, she can be dangerous. This has the possibility of being a very good match.
Finally, Irina Falconi will have to hope that Sabine Lisicki has a bad day when they play their third round match. Lisicki got a walkover from Venus Williams yesterday, so she'll be fresh, and--when she feels confident--she can blow opponents away, not only with her serve and her big hitting, but with her good court instincts.