When a tennis match is a tight contest between two players, it almost always comes down to who wants it more rather than a winning shot. In today’s quarterfinal matchup between Serena Williams and Sam Stosur, one could say it was an amazing dipping backhand passing shot that Stosur hit at 6-6, 15-40 in the third set to give her the service break she needed to finally win 6-2, 6-7, 8-6. But really what gave Stosur the victory was her willingness to stare down Williams so to speak from the first point. Meanwhile, for Novak Djokovic who was even more in control of his encounter with Jurgen Melzer, Djokovic inexplicably lost the thread after being up two sets and a break to lose a match that could haunt the Serb for some time.
The Stosur/Williams match, though played at a high level by both women, was really more about who would handle the moment better mentally. Both served in the high 60 percent range throughout and breaks were treasured when earned. What makes this win for Stosur more impressive is how she weathered her nerves and Williams’s trademark way of willing herself out of what appears to be a loss. Down in Melbourne at the Australian Open, Williams seemed completely out of it to Victoria Azarenka in their quarterfinal match before Williams climbed back from being down a set and 0-4 in the second set. When Williams won the second set tiebreak today after Stosur failed to serve out the match at 5-3, the assumption was Williams would repeat the same familiar plotline.
But Stosur didn’t wilt. She could have mulled over lost opportunities but instead got back up on the tightrope and followed Williams in each of their service games in the third set. The match lacked drama or even a rooting crowd as the spectators seemed unsure if Stosur really was an underdog who needed their support or kept quiet for the American because they knew Williams didn’t need their help either. That Stosur kept going for it, charging the net down match point and then hitting winner after winner especially at 6-6 was almost as if Stosur were saying to Williams, “Not only will I stay on this tightrope with you, but watch me do a somersault too.” That Stosur won the hard way will make this win much sweeter and much more satisfying as if she had rewritten the plotline to a much preferable ending like one of those old “Choose Your Adventure” books back in the day. Justine Henin talked about wishing her adventure on the red clay could have continued after her loss to Stosur. Today’s win by the Australian showed that hers, both in Paris and the rest of her career, may be just beginning.
For Novak Djokovic, what seemed like an inevitable meeting with Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, turned into a over four hour losing effort that will have the charismatic Serb questioning his tactics for some time. After being up two sets and a break over Melzer, Djokovic had an inevitable let down giving Melzer the third set. And even though the fourth set was close before drifting into a tiebreak, one expected Djokovic to out hit the crafty Melzer and be done with it. But instead, Djokovic seemed lulled into playing Melzer’s cat and mouse game and before it was all said and done it was Melzer who had the belief he would win while Djokovic looked lost on court. When Melzer finally won 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-4, his beaming smile and knowledge he toughed it out was probably the bigger reward than the ranking points he earned.
So where does Djokovic, who some thought earlier this year might challenge Roger Federer or Nadal for the top ranking go from here? With questions over his physical health lingering and other challengers, especially Robin Soderling, getting more press now for being possibly the next No. 1, it appears the Serb’s game has plateaued with no amount of racquet changes, serving motion changes and coaching changes appearing to be the answer he needs to climb to the very top. For someone who loves being in the limelight, Djokovic may have to be content with just being a contender for the title of world’s best for quite some time.