By Barry Janoff
August 23, 2013: Serena Williams enters the U.S. Open as the No. 1 women's player in the world and also as the top-ranked American player among men or women.
However, American Express has signed a deal with three young Americans — Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys and Jack Sock — to represent the financial firm in multi-media activations as they seek to work their way to the top.
The 20-year-old Stephens is ranked No. 17 in the world among women and the 18-year-old Keys No. 40, but they are No. 2 and No. 5, respectively among U.S. women.
Sock, 20, is No. 87 among men worldwide and No. 3 among U.S. men behind John Isner and Sam Querrey.
Stephens' alliance extends to 2014, according to American Express, an official partner of the U.S. Tennis Assn. and the U.S. Open.. Stephens also has deals with Under Armour, Head and Johnson & Johnson's Listerine. Keys has deals with Nike and Wilson. Sock has an alliance with adidas.
Financial terms of the AmEx deals were not released.
Stephens, Keys and Sock will appear in a variety of activations during the U.S. Open, which runs Aug. 26-Sept. 9. That includes Internet, social media such as Facebook and YouTube and appearances at the American Express U.S. Open Fan Experience in the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
In addition, the three players have been working with American Express to refurbish tennis courts in their respective home towns. These are among 80 community tennis courts being refurbished this year through AmEx's Fresh Courts initiative.
Tennis continues to be a strategic part of marketing and sponsorship for a growing number of companies nationwide. The projected spend at the professional and amateur level this year predicted to top $700 million for the first time, up more than $125 million from 2009, according to sponsorship, marketing and research firm IEG, Chicago.
Companies are high on Stephens and Keys because of their playing and marketing upsides. Patrick McEnroe, former player and U.S. David Cup captain, who is working at the U.S. Open as an ESPN analyst, said that Stephens and Keys were the most likely among all American women currently on the WTA tour to join Serena Williams as Grand Slam tournament winners.
"Other than Serena, Sloane Stephens would be the first one [to win a Grand Slam] that comes to mind," said McEnroe. "She's getting close. She's close to the top 10. She's done well in the big tournaments, so would be No. 1. Madison Keys has shown a lot of big game potential, so she would be No. 2."
In addition to AmEx, sponsors for the U.S. Open include Chase, Citizen, Emirates Airline, IBM, JP Morgan, Mercedes-Benz, Esurance, Heineken, Ralph Lauren, Xerox, Evian, Grey Goose, Panasonic, Moet & Chandon, Westin and Wilson.
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