NEW YORK (Reuters) - Serena Williams is absent from this year's U.S. Open as she prepares to have her first child but if there is to be an American champion at Flushing Meadows again it is still likely to be a Williams.
With the American men experiencing their longest U.S. Open title drought in the Open era, Venus Williams led the American charge into round two on Monday with a 6-3 3-6 6-2 win over Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia.
The 37-year-old, who last won the title in New York in 2002, is high on confidence after reaching two grand slam finals in 2017, in Australia and at Wimbledon.
“I feel like my game always rises a lot in the bigger events,” Williams told a news conference. “That's what I feel like, like I'll be ready to play when push comes to shove.”
Sloane Stephens continued her impressive return from a long-term absence with injury, beating Italy’s Roberta Vinci, the runner-up two years ago, 7-5 6-1.
“Before I got injured, I was playing some really good tennis,” the American said. “I think I knew it was going to take time, but I eventually wanted to get back to where I was.
“I didn't think it would happen in the third tournament. It's better than I could have hoped for.”
While Serena Williams has given home fans plenty of reasons to celebrate over the years, it has been 14 years since they had a men's champion -- Andy Roddick taking the title in 2003.
In fact, since 2008, the furthest any home man has been was in 2011 when Roddick and John Isner made it to the quarters.
The absence of many big names, including Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, has left the draw wide open this year, however, and Isner and Sam Querrey both impressed on day one.
Isner, the 10th seed, took care of business with a 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3 win over France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert, revelling in the cooler than usual conditions at Flushing Meadows.
With his big serve clicking and a new-found aggression on returns, Isner won titles in Newport and Atlanta this summer, but when it comes to his hopes and expectations, “nothing has changed”.
“I came into this tournament playing pretty well,” he said. “So whether guys like Novak and Kei (Nishikori) and Andy and Milos (Raonic) were here, nothing really would have changed for me.
“There are still a lot of very good players in this tournament that are going to have to be dealt with. I think I'm one of them.”
Querrey cruised into the second round with a 6-4 6-3 6-4 victory over Frenchman Gilles Simon.
Having reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon, Querrey has been tipped as a potential dark horse for the title.
“I lost first round the last couple of years, so I honestly wanted to just win one round,” he said.
“I feel like I’m playing well and I feel like I can go far in the tournament but I really just want to concentrate on my next match, against Dudi Sela on Wednesday.”
Jared Donaldson and Steve Johnson also won through but 13th seed Jack Sock was not so fortunate, going down 6-2 7-6(12) 1-6 5-7 6-4 to Australian Jordan Thompson.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)