There are 11 Americans in the main draw of the Family Circle Cup, most since 2001:
Name Age Rank
Serena Williams 32 1
Sloane Stephens 21 16
Venus Williams 33 31
Madison Keys 19 38
Alison Riske 23 48
Varvara Lepchenko 27 49
Lauren Davis 20 55
Christina McHale 21 57
Vania King 25 72
Shelby Rogers 21 110
Melanie Oudin 22 131
Celebrating her 21st birthday recently, rising American tennis star Sloane Stephens registered for gifts at Target.
She did it through the wedding registry, so when the online form asked her whom she was marrying, Stephens entered the name of her mother, Sybil.
"I was going to marry myself, but I couldn't put the same name," Stephens said two weeks ago at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. "I ended up having to put my mom's."
It's a good bet that Stephens would trade all the 35 Target gifts she asked for (including "a three-bedroom tent") for a much more precious target - a breakthrough WTA Tour victory.
Stephens, from Coral Springs, Fla., and ranked No. 16 in the world, leads a deep field of young American players set for the Family Circle Cup this week on Daniel Island.
There are 11 Americans in the FCC field, the tournament's most since 2001. Eight of them are age 25 or younger, following in the wake of the estimable Williams sisters, No. 1-ranked Serena (age 32) and No. 31 Venus (33), who have 103 career titles and more than $83 million in career earnings between them.
With 11 U.S. players currently ranked in the top 72 in the world, the depth of American tennis is fairly solid. But the search for a top 10 complement to Venus and Serena continues, with players such as Stephens, 19-year-old Madison Keys, 23-year-old Alison Riske and 20-year-old Lauren Davis heading the candidate list.
Also in the main draw at the Family Circle Cup are Daniel Island's Shelby Rogers and Melanie Oudin, still trying to regain her form of the summer of 2009, when she made the round of 16 at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.
There are plenty of questions facing the young Americans.
"Is Sloane Stephens just good enough to tantalize, but not good enough to break into the top 10?" a writer at tennis.com asked before Indian Wells. "Is Madison Keys too movement-impaired to become a true phenom on the WTA Tour? From the rest of the young Americans, are there any potential top 10 players?"
The Family Circle Cup, the first clay court event of the season, should help reveal the answers to those questions as the young Americans learn about life on tour.
For Stephens, a nice run this year to the fourth round at the Australian Open was followed by indifferent results in the Middle East before she knocked off No. 11 Ana Ivanovic on the way to the quarterfinals at Indian Wells. Then, in Miami, she got waxed 6-1, 6-0 by Caroline Wozniacki.
New coach Paul Annacone, who was Pete Sampras' longtime mentor, is trying to help her smooth out the roller-coaster ride, which took her as high as the semifinals of the Australian Open (and a win over Serena) in 2013.
"I'm definitely going to go through ups and downs," Stephens said after her win over Ivanovic. "I'm just like another, you know, 20-year-old that's in college or whatever.
"I am a sorority of one," she said of life on tour. "Sloane Phi Sigma or whatever . All the things I've had to go through, traveling and being a professional athlete and being so young and having pressure, I think I kind of skipped the phase of wanting to go out and have fun."
Davis, from Gates Mill, Ohio, enjoyed a breakthrough of sorts at Indian Wells, with wins over No. 3-ranked Victoria Azarenka and fellow American Varvara Lepchenko before she was felled by a stomach virus.
"I'm playing really well, my confidence is high," she said after the 6-0, 7-6 win over Azarenka. "I'm always believing in myself, so we'll see how it goes."
Keys, from Rock Island, Ill., made the Family Circle Cup quarterfinals last year on the way to her first top 50 ranking. In Miami, she defeated Daniela Hantuchova before giving No. 2-ranked Li Na a battle in the third round, losing 7-6, 6-3. She handled that loss better than she has in the past.
"It's looking back three years ago and remembering those devastating losses and realizing, I'm here right now," she said. "The world didn't end. I didn't have to quit tennis.
"You know, life continues."
As does the search for that next American star.
American Madison Keys made the quarterfinals at the Family Circle Cup last year, losing to Venus Williams. (Grace Beahm/postandcourier.com)×
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