Veteran coach Craig Kardon, who is currently working with CoCo Vandeweghe, says there's a large group of American women who have the talent to win a Grand Slam when the tour resumes—but they need confidence and concentration to do it.
There are 17 Americans in the WTA Top 100, from multiple Grand Slam champions like Serena Williams and Venus Williams, to younger major winners like Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin, to teenagers like Amanda Anisimova and Coco Gauff, and others in between.
While several have the game to lift big titles, Kardon says it's the ability to compete that takes players to the very top of the tour.
“Tennis is a very mental game when you get to that level because everyone's fit,” Kardon tells TENNIS.com. “Everyone takes care of their body and they're very strong and fit and everyone does the work. It's very physical and players are a lot fitter.”
Serena Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, is considered by a number of people as the best competitor ever. Though she has been winless in four major finals since returning to tour, Kardon assesses she still has a chance to grab another title.
“I think Serena definitely has a shot, any time her name is in a Slam. She's got a big game,” he says. “The thing for her is balancing her family, and the training, and making sure she's fit and not getting injured. She's a complete player. She competes unbelievable in the biggest moments, and a champion does.”
Stephens, who broke through by winning the 2017 US Open, also got to the final of the 2018 French Open. But the 27-year-old has slid way down the rankings recently.
“I think Sloane is one of the most talented players, one of the most talented American girls—she hits the ball, and moves, incredibly,” Kardon says. “It's just to put in the work to be a little more aggressive at times, and on the mental side, what she's willing to do tournament to tournament, even when she's not feeling good.”
Big-hitting Madison Keys played Stephens in the final of the 2017 US Open, but even though she's reached two major semifinals since, is still looking for another big showing.
“It's I think that she definitely has the game, but she's had some physical problems. She's had wrist surgeries, and just keeping fit and also healthy on an emotional level during a whole Slam is not easy to do. But she's been there and done quite a bit already,” Kardon says.
Younger players are now also climbing the ranks—21-year-old Kenin is the tour's most recent Slam champion, having won the Australian Open.
“I think she is going to be someone to reckon with for years to come,” Kardon says. “Also you've got [16-year-old] Coco Gauff is coming up.”
Kardon has coached a number of players, including Martina Navratilova, Mary Pierce and Maria Kirilenko, among others.
Dream team: Coaching Coco Gauff
He says his current charge Vandeweghe still has a lot of potential. In 2017, during Kardon's first stint as her coach, Vandeweghe stunned Grand Slam champions Angelique Kerber and Garbine Muguruza to reach the semifinals at the Australian Open before going down against Venus Williams. But after the two parted ways following the 2017 French Open, an ankle injury the next year kept Vandeweghe off the tour until 2019, and she found it tough to get back.
“Physically [she's] 100 percent but mentally, trusting her body when you've been off that long, it's pretty tough,” Kardon says. “She was only playing singles at that point. But now, she's had a chance to rest more. She wants to prove to herself that she can return to where she wants to be. She's fresh.”
The 28-year-old, who has been as high at No. 10, returned to training three weeks ago, with Kardon emphasizing the mental component.
“She's motivated. She wants to win,” says Kardon, who reunited with Vandeweghe before the 2020 season began. “Her strength is her serving, her powerful groundstrokes and her ability to adapt her game. The thing she has to work on is her ability to concentrate—not only through a match, through three sets, but through a tournament. She has proved she's capable of beating the top players, now she needs to have that self-belief during a match and during a tournament. And also to keep her work ethic at a level to where she does not have any holes in her game.”
But while she and other players would like to return to WTA competition, Kardon isn't sure when it will or should happen.
“If they have a US Open, [but it] is completely depleted and it's American players and it counts for ranking and points... it could actually hurt tennis,” Kardon says.
“I don't know about hosting a Grand Slam when there's travel restrictions on your best players. It's a sport, but we need fans, we need sponsors.”