Another year, another Australian Open and another bitter disappointment for Sam Stosur. Oh, how she would love to do well here and, oh, how grim it is when her dreams are shattered. This time it was Ana Ivanovic who did the damage, riding the rollercoaster of their third round encounter to win 6-7(8) 6-4 6-2 on Friday night.
It was not that Stosur played poorly, it was just that she could not put a stranglehold on the match when the chance presented itself. Maybe if she had closed out the first set at the first time of asking, she might have managed to put a hint of doubt into Ivanovic’s mind. Maybe if she had put her foot on the throttle at the start of the second set, she might have made her nervous rival twitch. Alas, she did neither, so now it is Ivanovic who will face Serena Williams on Sunday while Stosur goes back to the drawing board.
The match was not unlike the Melbourne weather – in the space of two-and-a-bit hours we went from one extreme to the other. On a day that began with blistering temperatures and ended with a cool change, a torrential downpour and a chill breeze, the evening began with two terribly tense women doing their level best not to win the opening set and ended with Ivanovic in her pomp, clattering winners to a band playing. And in between we had a rain delay.
It is probably best to draw a veil over that opening set – anyone of a nervous disposition really ought not to have been watching. Even those made of sterner stuff were hiding behind the sofa and trying not to look. From holding a 5-3 lead and having a set point on the Serb’s serve, Stosur contrived to drop serve and get herself stuck in a desperate tiebreak. Set points came and set points went, and neither woman had the nerve to take them.
Then, out of nowhere, someone unzipped a cloud over the Rod Laver Arena. The pouring rain halted proceedings for 27 minutes, that was 27 minutes for Ivanovic to try and clear her head and 27 minutes for Stosur to ponder her chances of winning. When they got back to work, the local heroine managed to claim the set, but it did not seem to settle her nerves – not one little bit.
Ivanovic, on the other hand, was about to let rip. The whole match had been a battle of the big forehands – and Stosur never did quite work out how to keep the ball away from that flank. Given half a chance, Ivanovic was welting winners off the shot – 32 of them in all – and while Stosur’s forehand is none too shabby, it could not match the No.14 seed with the wind in her sails.
No one could call Ivanovic’s game plan ‘percentage tennis’ but, on this occasion, it was working like a dream. She started swinging freely and almost every forehand swipe found the mark. “In the key moments, I don’t trust her to make those shots,” Sam Smith told the television viewers (she has watched a lot of these matches and knows not to take anything for granted) but, for once, Ana was making them. She was making them every time.
By the time we were into the third set, Stosur was hanging on by her fingertips. Ivanovic, pumping her fist and roaring herself on, was ripping through the games until we got to the moment we had all been dreading: Ana serving for the match. The memories of the first-set horror show were still fresh in the mind and the thought of someone having to grit their teeth and close out the win just did not seem possible. No matter – Ivanovic was up to the job. With one final forehand, she wrapped up the match and marched into the fourth round.
So another Australian Open had got away from Stosur. There is, as we said 12 months ago, always next year.