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Week 1 Report: Americans make impact at Australian Open

January 20, 2014 01:43 PM
Serena Williams set the Australian Open record for women's singles vicories during Week 1 of this year's event.
Sam Querrey upset No. 23 Ernests Gulbis en route to the third round.
Alison Riske has reached the third round or better at each of the last three Grand Slams.
Donald Young reached the third round at the 2014 Australian Open, earning his first live action in a Davis Cup tie.

By Nicholas J. Walz, USTA.com

Twenty-four Americans – 12 men, 12 women – landed Down Under this January with designs on success at the 2014 Australian Open. For world No. 1 Serena Williams, a five-time Aussie champion, there were high expectations that she would dethrone two-time defending champion and rival Victoria Azarenka. And a pair of No. 13s, John Isner and Sloane Stephens, aimed to prove their seedings lucky with deep runs as tournament dark horses.

With two dozen hopefuls battling it out in the Melbourne main singles draws, the United States led the pack of nations for the most players in the main draw – four more than the next-best nation, France (20), and eight better than the host country, Australia (16).

Here’s how they fared as we look back at the Australian Open’s first week:

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Above Court: While Williams will undoubtedly be dissatisfied with losing to Ana Ivanovic in the round of 16, her Australian Open experience this year did lead to a milestone: By beating No. 31 seed Daniela Hantuchova in the third round, Serena collected her 61st career win in Oz and passed International Tennis Hall of Famer Margaret Court for most women’s singles victories in Australian Open history. The 17-time Grand Slam tournament champion played her first-ever major at Melbourne Park in 1998 at the age of 16.

Weathering the Elements: Stephens continues to show great promise for the future. As the last remaining U.S. player in either singles draw, her 2014 Australian Open journey ended with a loss to Azarenka Sunday in the fourth round, yet in early-round matches she found the strength to rally. Stephens beat Croatia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 in the second round and Ukraine’s Elena Svitolina, 7-5, 6-4, in the third, battling the brutal 110-degree heat along the way. In reaching the round of 16, Stephens extended her streak as the only current player age 20 or younger to reach the second week in the last five majors.

Feeling Young: 2005 Australian Open boys’ singles champion Donald Young has found that as a professional, it is difficult to earn the same success he enjoyed as a two-time junior Grand Slam winner. But the 24-year-old Chicago product might have set himself up for a prosperous 2014 campaign with his showing in Melbourne. He bested Robin Haase of the Netherlands in four sets in the first round and followed that up with a three-hour, 31-minute, five-set triumph over No. 24 seed Andreas Seppi to earn his first trip into the third round of a Grand Slam tournament since the 2011 US Open.

Just a year ago, Young fell out of the Top 200 in the ATP World Tour singles rankings, and he endured a 17-match losing streak in 2012 – now his confidence and ranking (91) are on the rise in 2014.

Riske Rising: With seven main draw victories in her last three major appearances, Alison Riske has become an American revelation. Like Young, she’s dealt with some humbling stretches – from the 2012 French Open to the 2013 French Open, the 23-year-old fell in five consecutive qualifying tournaments at majors before reaching the third round of the Wimbledon a year ago. She followed that by smashing her way into the round of 16 in Flushing Meadows, taking No. 7-seed Petra Kvitova down in dominant fashion en route.

Riske’s momentum carried through to Melbourne, where she beat both No. 23 seed Elena Vesnina and former US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer in straight sets before falling in a tough 6-3, 6-4 battle with ninth-seeded Angelique Kerber.

Way of the Samurai: Sam Querrey notched a nice victory in the 2014 Australian Open second round, beating No. 23 seed Ernests Gulbis, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Along with his first-round triumph over Chile’s Santiago Giraldo, the 26-year-old U.S. Davis Cup team stalwart pushed his career mark at Grand Slam events above .500 (28 wins, 27 losses) and signaled that his ready to make a run back into the Top 20 in 2014.

Doubles Alley: Though the focus thus far has zeroed in on singles performances, a handful of U.S. players have aced their doubles matches during the first week in Oz. The California duo of Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears has reached the quarterfinals of the women’s draw, while Scott Lipsky of Merrick, N.Y., and partner Jie Zheng of China remain alive in mixed doubles.

The biggest surprise thus far in doubles undoubtedly was the third-round upset of top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan by fellow American Eric Butorac and South Africa’s Raven Klaasen, 7-6, 6-4. For the 32-year-old Rochester, Minn., native, it’s a first trip to a Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2012 Australian Open, when he teamed with Brazil’s Bruno Soares.

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For more coverage of Americans at the 2014 Australian Open, please also read:
 
Stephens ready for another second week charge
After loss, Serena will work like she's ranked No. 1,000
Older and wiser, Young is on the rise
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