For Serena Williams, her comeback to tennis this summer, that included an 18-match win streak, seemed destined for a perfect ending. With the U.S. Open Women’s Singles Final being played on the tenth year anniversary of 9/11, it appeared to be the kind of larger than life moment that Williams seemed destined to take part in, especially after she said earlier that she was playing in honor of all those lost on that fateful day. And Williams with finding herself the prohibitive favorite against Australia’s Sam Stosur in front of a supportive 20,000 plus New York crowd who expected the three-time champion to overwhelm Stosur in straight sets, and you had all the makings of a fairytale ending.
The expected straight set result happened but as they say in Hollywood, the script was totally flipped.
Instead it was Stosur, who had not stepped foot on Arthur Ashe Stadium during her two weeks at the U.S. Open, who appeared the more calm and focused of the two players while Serena looked sluggish and tense, perhaps a mixture of her late night semifinal against Caroline Wozniacki and the expectation placed on her to win. Stosur broke early for a 3-1 lead and then later reeled off 12 straight points, mainly on Williams’s errors, to close out the set 6-2. But fans expected Williams to wake up in the second set. And boy did she ever.
Williams while facing a break point in the opening game of the second set, 30-40, hit a forehand that landed in, but yelled “Come on!” as Stosur tried to chase it down. Chair Umpire Eva Asderaki told Williams that her yell was verbal hindrance and, per tournament rules, gave the point and the break to Stosur. An angry Williams went OFF on Asderaki before using her anger to break Stosur for 1-1 and then hold for a 2-1 lead. Williams continued to berate Asderaki during the changeover, even saying at one point “We are in America” as if somehow Asderaki were unaware of the solemn day the match was taking place on.
With Williams and the crowd fired up about the turn of events and with Williams’s level of play finally rising to the level expected, it felt like Stosur’s chances were slipping away. But the steel resolve of Stosur rarely seen in matches before was on full display as she held for 2-2 and then stayed with Williams for the middle of the set. When Stosur broke for 4-3, it appeared whatever rush of adrenaline Williams got from her outburst was fading and fading fast. Serving to stay in the match down 3-5, Williams saved two match points to force things to deuce. But Stosur hit a huge return to force to another match point that she finally won with a big crosscourt forehand that Serena could not reach. Stosur dropped to her knees in disbelief, an emotion probably shared by everyone on hand and watching around the world that the unthinkable had really happened.
Despite an up and down year that had many wondering if Stosur would ever be a factor at a Major again, Stosur was the one who claimed the fairytale ending in the city of dreams. It’s clear Serena was not at her best, especially during the first set when her normally fearsome first serve was not a factor. But all credit has to be given to Stosur who took advantage early on and, during the maelstrom of Serena’s outburst in the second set, didn’t let the moment affect her play. After enduring two weeks that including a hurricane, rain delays, court malfunctions, marathon matches, and the ridiculous decision by tournament officials to put Stosur’s semifinal match on an outside court, Stosur played her very best against the very best on the biggest stage the sport has in the biggest match of her career. And she did it all with conviction, focus and class. Stosur truly earned her first Major title and all you can say is Well Done, Sam. Well done.