US Open: The American stars aiming to fly the flag in Serena's absence
Serena Williams' absence at the US Open means the position of home flag bearer is wide open.
For the first time since 2010, the darling of American tennis Serena Williams will be absent from the US Open.
On that occasion, Williams – now a 23-time grand slam singles champion – was unable to compete due to a troublesome foot injury.
This time around, Williams will miss the trip to Flushing Meadows because she is pregnant with her first child.
That leaves a huge void to fill for a home hope to carry the flag in front of a demanding New York crowd.
No other American has triumphed at the tournament since Andy Roddick's victory in 2003 and indeed no American player other than Serena has won any major title since her sister Venus triumphed at Wimbledon in 2008.
Thus, an opportunity has been presented for a home-grown player to earn their stripes and we have assessed the players best placed to do so.
A current ranking of 84 belies the undoubted talent that Sloane Stephens possesses and is emblematic of the 24-year-old's stop-start career. In 2013, Stephens reached the Australian Open semi-finals and achieved a career-high ranking of 11. A dip in form followed, but she appeared to be nearing her best last year with three WTA Tour titles before a foot injury in August ended her season. There are signs she is ready to be a major player again, having reached the semi-finals in Toronto and Cincinnati in her preparation for Flushing Meadows.
Sam Querrey broke back into the world's top 20 this year. With a big serve and powerful forehand behind him, Querrey produced his best performance at a slam when he beat Andy Murray on the way to the Wimbledon semi-finals – the same venue where 12 months previously he had beaten Novak Djokovic. The men's draw is seemingly wide open this year with Djokovic missing, Murray and Roger Federer struggling for fitness and Rafael Nadal not yet hitting top form on the hard courts. Others appear better placed to challenge but, if the stars align, then who knows?
A victory for Coco Vandeweghe would be particularly sweet given she was born in the Big Apple and her grandfather Ernie represented the New York Knicks in the 1950s. The 25-year-old has been floating around the world's top 20 this month and she has proved capable of reaching the latter stages of slams, having made the last four in Melbourne before enjoying a run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals. It hasn't quite happened for her in New York, where she has yet to go beyond round two, but Vandeweghe has the pedigree to do better.
Jack Sock's singles record in grand slams leaves a lot to be desired and he has yet to go beyond round four at a major tournament. But the 24-year-old is a fierce competitor and has made steady progress up the rankings, reaching a career high of 14 in April. Throw in the fact that Sock has titles in Delray Beach and Auckland this year and, with a favourable run, he can contend.
There is no doubt that Madison Keys can play. The 22-year-old is ranked 16th in the world and was a victor in Stanford this month, where Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza was dispatched en route to a final win over Vandeweghe. In 2015, she reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and the last eight at Wimbledon, but she has flattered to deceive in the big four since then. It would be an ideal time to make the breakthrough in front of a partisan home crowd, though.
At 32, the chances are running out for the big-serving Isner. He has been a tough competitor on tour for the past 10 years and has spent time inside the world's top 10. Isner's best return at a slam came in 2011 when he reached the quarter-finals in New York. Victories in Newport and Atlanta, and a run to the Cincinnati semis this season bode well, but going far in the majors will be an all-together different task.
With seven major titles to her name, including two on home soil, Serena's elder sibling has nothing to prove. She has come agonisingly close to adding to her grand slam tally this year, by reaching the finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and the 37-year-old might just have a magic moment left in her locker to ensure a Williams sister is still the talk of the town.