US Open 2016: Americans with the Best Chance of Reaching Week 2

Joe Kennard@@JoeKennardFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2016

US Open 2016: Americans with the Best Chance of Reaching Week 2

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    Can Serena Williams keep her No. 1 ranking and make history?
    Can Serena Williams keep her No. 1 ranking and make history?Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    After all these years, Serena Williams, 34, remains the standard-bearer for American tennis and the county's leading Grand Slam contender.

    Aiming for a historic 23rd major victory as she tries to hang on to the No. 1 ranking, Williams raced out of the gate in the first round, getting one step closer to claiming a seventh U.S. Open crown.

    That shoulder injury she's been nursing the last few months? It seems to be healing at exactly the right time.

    While she's the best (and perhaps sole) home threat to win the title, others are capable of powering through for a deep run.

    Which other Americans have the best opportunity to join Williams in the second week?

Missing the Cut

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    Johnson celebrates a miracle comeback in the first round.
    Johnson celebrates a miracle comeback in the first round.Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Steve Johnson, the 19 seed, was briefly the top-ranked American on the men's side after the Western & Southern Open. He is on the rise in the midst of a summer that has seen him go 22-8 and make the quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

    That momentum almost came crashing down in the first round, though.

    Trailing by two sets to love against Evgeny Donskoy and staring at a 2-5, 0-40 deficit in the third, Johnson improbably stormed all the way back, saving six match points en route to a 4-6, 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3 win.

    Keeping that ride going to the second week is going to prove difficult with 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro his next opponent. Even if Johnson somehow knocks off the Argentine, he'd probably have to face David Ferrer in the third round.

    Despite his upward trajectory, a long stay at this year's U.S. Open seems unlikely for Johnson.

    Also worthy of note: CiCi Bellis, who's into her first Grand Slam third round. But after taking out the likes of Viktorija Golubic and Shelby Rogers, the 17-year-old will have to pull a rabbit out of the hat because world No. 2 Angelique Kerber is her next opponent.

Jack Sock

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    Sock will be up against the wall in the third round against a heavily favored Cilic.
    Sock will be up against the wall in the third round against a heavily favored Cilic.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    What are the odds that Jack Sock can topple a red-hot Marin Cilic in his next match?

    Not great, but the 23-year-old has put himself into a position to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the just the second time in his career. Even if Cilic dominates the tale of the tape, Sock won't go down without a fight.

    The Nebraskan finds himself at this point after going the distance in the first round against Taylor Fritz, another American hopeful. They went toe-to-toe for over three hours, with Sock blowing a two-sets-to-love advantage before regrouping and closing Fritz out by a score of 7-6 (3), 7-5, 3-6, 1-6, 6-4.

    Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, Sock played more assuredly in the second round, taking Mischa Zverev to the woodshed in a straight-sets blowout.

    With that dynamite forehand, Sock has a chance to upset Cilic, whom he beat earlier this season in Davis Cup play. But replicating that feat against the man who won this title two years ago is a much taller order. 

    He's going to have to let it rip and hope for the best.

Ryan Harrison

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    The biggest opportunity of his career awaits Harrison.
    The biggest opportunity of his career awaits Harrison.Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Prior to this year's U.S. Open, Ryan Harrison hadn't won a Grand Slam match since the 2013 French Open. Now, he's into the third round of a major for the first time in his life.

    Once considered a prospect to watch, the 24-year-old has found little success on the court in recent seasons as he struggled to develop his game and hasn't had the benefit of easy draws.

    The Louisiana native landed a more favorable assignment this time, gaining a much-needed win in the first round over veteran Adrian Mannarino in straight sets.

    That victory set up a clash with title hopeful and Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic. After clinching the first set in a tiebreak, Raonic appeared well on his way to the finish line. But he became hobbled by wrist and leg injuries, and his game quickly evaporated.

    Severely cramping, a dejected Raonic limped around the courtat times barely moving. Harrison stayed composed and closed him out for a 6-7(4), 7-5, 7-5, 6-1 win.

    Entering the match, Harrison was an ugly 1-27 against top-10 opponents. He improved that record slightly and next faces 31-year-old Marcos Baghdatis, who has lost his last nine third-round appearances at Grand Slams.

    Harrison is finally on the precipice of the career break he's waited so long for.

Venus Williams

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    Williams hopes to find new wind after a long first-round battle.
    Williams hopes to find new wind after a long first-round battle.Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    It wasn't easy, but ageless wonder Venus Williams is through to the second round in New York for the 10th consecutive year.

    Surviving a stiff 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 test against Kateryna Kozlova, the 36-year-old required nearly three hours to get through that one.

    In a favorable section of the draw, Williams has a good shot to make at least the fourth round, where Western & Southern Open champion Karolina Pliskova could stand in her way.

    In the meantime, Williams will turn her focus to world No. 64 Julia Goerges, whose best U.S. Open result is the third round in 2011.

    Give the more experienced Williams the edge there and in the following round, where she'd face either an under-the-radar Laura Siegemund or fellow American Nicole Gibbs.

    Not far removed from her semifinal showing at Wimbledon earlier this summer, Williams still has the mettle to perform well at these events.

John Isner

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    How far can Isner's serve carry him with Djokovic looming?
    How far can Isner's serve carry him with Djokovic looming?Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

    John Isner needed almost three-and-a-half hours to avoid being sent packing in the first round.

    Coming back from a two-sets-to-love deficit against uber-talented, 18-year-old countryman Frances Tiafoe, Isner fired past the teenager in a topsy-turvy battle. That monstrous serve came in clutch as he registered 35 aces and locked up a 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (3) win.

    Crisis averted. 

    His legs must have felt heavy afterward, but Isner shook it off and comfortably took care of an overmatched Steve Darcis in four sets.

    The 31-year-old next faces 84th-ranked Kyle Edmund for a spot in the fourth round. Should he pull through that one and reach the second week, his "reward" would be a likely showdown with Novak Djokovic.

    But you never know. If Djokovic is less than 100 percent physically, maybe Isner can catch lightning in a bottle like Sam Querrey did at Wimbledon and down the world No. 1.

    To have that chance, he'll have to stay focused against an upset-minded Edmund.

Madison Keys

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    Keys had a lot to smile about after outlasting Riske in a first-round thriller.
    Keys had a lot to smile about after outlasting Riske in a first-round thriller.Elsa/Getty Images

    A tale of two matches for Madison Keys.

    The first one saw her stretched to the limit, playing until 1:48 a.m.—the latest finish for a women's match at the U.S. Open.

    Scratching and clawing her way out of a jam against Pittsburgh native Alison Riske, a resilient Keys pulled through 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2. Only two points from going home, she lived to fight another day.

    She made up for that shaky performance with a dominant one in her next outing. In just 48 minutes, Keys overwhelmed another American, 16-year-old Kayla Day, 6-1, 6-1. Talk about a quick day at the office.

    With all her power and natural ability, Keys, 21, is already a serious contender. While her game's still a work in progress, she's made it to at least the fourth round in each of the last five majors, not including her semifinal showing at last year's Australian Open.

    Keys should skate past 18-year-old Naomi Osaka in her next match, though she can't afford to overlook the talented teenager, who's capable of pulling off the upset.

    Could a maiden Grand Slam final soon be up her sleeve?

Serena Williams

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    Williams passed her first-round test with flying colors at the 2016 U.S. Open.
    Williams passed her first-round test with flying colors at the 2016 U.S. Open.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    In her first match since a shock third-round exit from the Olympics, Williams played confidently and efficiently, dispatching 2014 semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-3 in 62 minutes.

    Her serve, despite lingering concerns about that right shoulder, was on point, with Williams dropping 12 aces and hitting just one double fault.

    With a tricky first-round test behind her, the top seed can turn her attention to fellow American Vania King, followed by an encounter with either Johanna Larsson or Denisa Allertova, players who shouldn't trouble her at all.

    Williams will safely sail into the second week, setting a potential fourth-round showdown with Samantha Stosur, who beat her in the 2011 U.S. Open final.

    Motivated to surpass Steffi Graf's Open era record of 22 major singles titles and keep Angelique Kerber from taking her world No. 1 ranking, there'll be no denying Williams.

    All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com and WTATennis.com unless otherwise noted. 

    Joe Kennard is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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