Of all the American story lines coming into this year's French Open -- John Isner's early clay court promise, Serena's 18-0 record on clay -- I wouldn't have guessed that I'd be talking about newly-minted US citizen Varvara Lepchenko and 19-year-old Sloane Stephens.
Both booked their slots in the Round of 16 today, and are the last Americans standing in the singles tournament.
The 26-year-old Lepchenko ground down 14th-seed Francesca Schiavone in three hours, and three sets, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6. It's the second seeded player she's taken out, after sending 19th-seed Jelena Jankovic packing a round earlier.
A reporter had to ask the Uzbekistan native to tell the press corps a little bit about herself, because she wasn't profiled in the WTA's players' handbook. Lepchenko said that was because of her ranking.
"At the beginning of the year, I was 128," she explained.
She trains with the USTA at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Queens, and credited player development head Patrick McEnroe and her coaches for boosting her confidence.
"They just told me, You got to believe in you. You have great strokes, great potential. If you worked as hard as you work right now, you will get ‑‑ you will reach top 50, you know."
Fellow American Sloane Stephens rolled in straight sets over Mathilde Johannson. It's the first time she's reached the second week of a Slam. Stephens also credited her mental game, telling wtatennis.com
"I've definitely practiced and worked on staying calm. My grandparents gave me a necklace and it says 'in calmness and in confidence.' Every time I'm getting really tight, I think of it."
It's a reminder to me that technique can only carry you so far.
Stephens will need to rub that necklace until it's worn thin for her next match against Number 6 seed and 2010 French Open finalist Samantha Stosur. That should be a forehand slugfest.
As for Jersey girl Christina McHale, she took defending champ Li Na to three sets before succumbing. Bad for McHale, good for my bracket. I have Li going to the quarters, where I predict she'll fall to Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova. But first, Li has to lick tongue-twister Yaroslava Shvedova. Kvitova, meanwhile, overcame a hiccup in the second set to beat Nina Bratchikova, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, and will take on Lepchenko.
Maria Sharapova is through to the Round of 16. Everyone in the "I Hate Tennis French Open Cake Contest" is applauding. But another former number one, Caroline Wozniacki, continues to give Tennis Channel and ESPN commentators plenty to say about her passive, counterpunching game. She was upset by a wobbly Kaia Kanepi, who was broken three times by Wozniaki when serving for the match
While we're on the subject of cake, I am already savoring my favorite yellow cake with caramel frosting. I lead the bracket with 100 points, helped along by Li Na, Dominika Cibulkova (I am hoping she takes out Victoria Azarenka, even though I have Azarenka in the final) and Sara Errani.
Tam Thomsen is on my heels, just three points back. She was too dazzled by McHale's rising star, picking her over Li.
Caitlin Thompson is not far behind, with 95 points. She's the only one who followed the seeding and correctly chose number 10 Angelique Kerber to beat number 18 Flavia Pennetta.
Surinder Singh continues to play mop-up. He's got 90 points. But I hold up my busted racquet in an "I Hate Tennis" salute for his choice of unknown and unseeded Petra Martic. Like Sloane Stephens, the young Croatian is into the second round of a Slam for the first time.
On the men's side....yawn. The expecteds advanced: Nadal, Ferrer, Almagro, and Murray, who rebounded from the back ailment that seemed to bother him in his last round. Paul-Henri Mathieu, the Frenchman who outlasted John Isner in five sets, could not do the same with Marcel Granollers. The Spaniard shut him down in the decider, 6-1.