The clay courts at the French Open shouldn’t be considered a Waterloo for American players. Even though an American man hasn’t won the tournament since 1999, and only two women have captured the title this millennium, the current crop of American professionals have shown at different points that they’re comfortable on the soft stuff.
Here’s a look at five Americans who could make some noise at Roland Garros.
The U.S. No. 1 has become the standard-bearer among his countrymen in 2017, winning two titles already this year. Possessing one of the heaviest forehands and serves in men’s tennis, Sock’s game translates well on all surfaces. In fact, the first title of his career came at the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston.
The momentum from that initial title-winning run carried over to the French Open that year, as he reached the round of 16 with wins over Grigor Dimitrov, Pablo Carreno Busta and Borna Coric along the way, marking the first time he reached the second week at a Slam.
Harrison, in the midst of the best season of his career, is taking no shortcuts on the path to establishing himself as a threat on any surface. As soon as the hard-court stretch ended—and after taking time to get married—Harrison hit the clay in Europe, bypassing the U.S. Clay Court Championships.
There were some initial setbacks, but Harrison managed to win a match in three straight tournaments before losing to Janko Tipsarevic in Geneva. He also teamed up with Michael Venus to capture his first clay-court doubles title in that span, winning the Estoril Open—on his birthday, no less.
The hard-hitting American is at her best on faster surfaces: Her two career singles titles have come on grass. Still, though, Vandeweghe is more than capable of raising her game for the biggest tournaments, most recently demonstrated by her semifinal run at this year’s Australian Open.
And while she’s only made it past the first round at the French Open twice in her career, she’s coming off what might be considered her breakthrough performance on clay: reaching the quarterfinals at the tournament in Madrid with tough wins over Laura Siegemund and Carla Suarez Navarro.
At this stage in her short career, Bellis is still going through the developmental stages of life on tour. If anything, though, the 18-year-old has shown she’s a quick learner.
In her first main-draw appearance at a WTA tournament on clay, Bellis reached the quarterfinals in Rabat earlier this month.
She followed that run up with second-round finishes in Madrid and Rome. Bellis will be making her French Open debut this year, but she’s no stranger to Grand Slam tennis and success, having reached the third round at the U.S. Open as an amateur last year.
Could clay possibly be Tiafoe’s best surface? He made his first ATP final at the U.S. Clay Court Championships a few weeks ago, in doubles. Then, the young prodigy followed that up with two Challenger titles in a row on dirt. The first one was in Sarasota, Fla., on the green clay commonly played on in the U.S.
He then made the trip to Europe to capture the prestigious Aix en Provence Challenger on red clay.
What’s most impressive about those triumphs is that between both tournaments, he won third-set tiebreakers against solid veterans Jurgen Melzer and Jeremy Chardy, displaying maturity well beyond his years.
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