Visit courant.com/ctopen819 for more photos.
NEW HAVEN – It is a perennial exercise among tennis observers envisioning life after Serena.
Just who will step up and seize the mantle as the next great American tennis player? Serena Williams remains elite, her sister Venus is aging, and the tennis world is waiting for someone — anyone — to take the next step.
So as Pittsburgh-bred Alison Riske advanced to the Connecticut Open quarterfinals with a 6-1, 7-6 (3) upset victory over Flavia Pennetta Tuesday, the plotline was predictable. Riske is the last American standing in New Haven and could use a run in Connecticut as a springboard to the U.S. Open, where American players are the darlings of the New York crowd.
Not that the New Haven crowd wouldn't love an American to support. The tournament has been waiting for a marketable American for years and Riske has an opportunity to fill the role.
"I hope people will come and support [me]," Riske said. "It will be awesome. … I'm definitely proud to be the lone American and hopefully I can keep it rolling."
There was ample opportunity to cheer for Riske Tuesday. Just a few hours after her singles victory, she took the court with doubles partner CoCo Vandeweghe and completed a 7-5, 6-2 win over Nicole Gibbs and Grace Min.
The doubles team will be on the grandstand court at 2 p.m. Wednesday, facing Darja Jurak and Megan Moulton-Levy. In the singles bracket, Riske's quarterfinal opponent is the winner of the Tuesday evening match between No. 1 seed Simona Halep and Magdalena Rybarikova.
Another win will shine a bright light on Riske as the Open looms. Riske, ranked 44th in the world, is familiar with the "next American star" chatter after staging an upset of Petra Kvitova in the third round of the U.S. Open last year. That came after she lost to Kvitova in the round of 16 in New Haven, playing herself into the main draw from the qualifying round before winning her first match.
This year, she won her first round match over Casey Dellacqua to earn a match with Pennetta. The sixth-seed Pennetta is ranked 12th in the world and was considered a title contender in New Haven.
Instead, she was ousted as Riske outplayed her in the first set and outlasted her in the second. Pennetta said she was under the weather early in the match, feeling dizzy and disoriented.
Riske broke her serve four times in the first set and once in the second.
"I thought I played well the entire match," Riske said. "Obviously, she's Top 15 in the world, so once a set goes fairly quick you can only prepare that it's going to be tougher in the second. I thought I stayed true to how I play and it was definitely a solid match for me."
McHale is currently 43rd in the world and sixth among Americans, one slot ahead of Riske. Stephens is 22nd and the third highest-ranked American behind Serena (No. 1) and Venus (No. 20). The other top-ranked Americans are Madison Keys (No. 28) and Vandeweghe (No. 39), who lost in the third round at New Haven and remains as Riske's doubles partner.
"We have so many great Americans coming up," Riske said. "I think all of us are just looking to play our games, to do what we do best. I don't really look at it as pressure. I don't think any of the other girls do, either. It's awesome. It's a new generation coming through. There's lots of good things that can happen for us, so it's nice to be in it together."
At 24, Riske is bidding for a move into the upper echelon of players. Her career-high ranking is 40th (June 9, 2014) and she broke into the Top 100 13 months ago.
Riske said the formula for reaching the next level is by modeling herself after those top players.
"Obviously, if you're going to compete against them, you have to go after them because they're going to go after you if you don't," Riske said. "I think that's what separates the Top five, for sure, possibly Top 10 from the rest of the group. They're extremely strong at what they do and they never veer from it, no matter what's going on."
In the other day session singles match Tuesday, Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova of the Czech Republic eliminated France's Caroline Garcia, 7-5, 6-2. Zahlavova-Strycova, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist this year, is making her first appearance in New Haven and is currently No. 31 in the world.
The top seed doubles team of Cara Black and Sania Mirza advanced with a 6-7(3), 7-6(2), 10-7 victory over Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova. Also in doubles, Marina Erakovic and Arantxa Santonja Parra defeated Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro, 2-6, 7-5, 10-6.