The Summer of Serena, as I like to call it, went by in a blur it seems. And for many of Williams’s opponents this summer, it probably felt like their matches against Williams went by in a flash as the three time U.S. Open Champion earned herself an 18 match win streak that included taking the titles in Stanford and Toronto, bringing Serena a victory away from her 14th Major championship in New York. But while I watching the Women’s Semifinals yesterday, it was another summer that I kept thinking about that happened earlier this January in Melbourne. Back then, Williams was still recuperating from her foot injury while Sam Stosur was dealing with the pressure and expectation of doing well at her home Major. It’s safe to say both women in different ways have come a long way since then.
Stosur during her stellar run to the U.S. Open finals has openly talked about her disappointment of losing last year’s French Open finals to Francesca Schiavone that took her a long time to get over, even with many people including her coach David Taylor telling her she would make it back to the last day of a Major again. Back in Melbourne, Stosur lost early to rising star Petra Kvitova and then couldn’t win a match until she hit the clay court season where it appeared she had turned her season around. But another early loss in Paris and then a first round loss at Wimbledon had many wondering if Stosur was doomed to being a “one hit wonder” so to speak, forever to be known as a player who didn’t grab her chance at a Major when she had it.
But Stosur finally made peace with her loss to Schiavone along with improving her game and it’s shown on the hardcourts this summer. She reached the finals of Toronto and during her two weeks in New York she’s won some lengthy matches that probably before she would have lost due to nerves or lack of self-belief. The nerves are still there a bit as she’s had trouble serving out sets and matches at the Open, but Stosur’s journey to the finals prove that she’s a better player than she was last year and makes her a contender for any future Major down the road.
For Williams, her absence at Melbourne this year sparked a slew of derogatory articles about the WTA and its players, many saying that there was “no order” and “lack of interest” in the tour that could harm the sport for years to come. Of course, none of those writers would just come out and say that they missed Williams’s game and larger than life personality on and off the court. When Williams suffered a life threatening hematoma later in the spring, many wondered if Williams would ever play tennis again. Her return to the sport and the way she’s dominated the tour this summer has been inspiring and eye-opening in how Williams is now more open with her thoughts off the court while on-court she displays a new patience when things aren’t quite going her way.
Stosur goes into the finals versus Williams a clear underdog and will have to serve well and find a way to use her favorite weapon, the forehand, to great advantage. She won’t be overwhelmed by playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium in the second biggest match of her life as her experience at Roland Garros will help her and she just might feel loose enough to go for broke on every point. But unlike Paris last year, this time all of the expectation will be on Williams to prevail not just for the home crowd, but for herself. Williams may possess a “been there, done that” aura when playing for a Major title, but she herself may tighten up just a bit if things are close, just because she knows winning a fourth U.S. Open title after all she’s been through this year would cap off not only one of the great comeback stories in tennis, but in all of sports in recent memory.
Stosur and Williams are very different in terms of their personalities and playing styles. But both have dealt with almost life threatening, career-ending health issues that after their recovery saw both approach the game at a higher level than ever before. And whoever wins today, both Williams and Stosur have proven with their results in New York that many more successful summers are likely in their futures, long after 2011 feels like a distant blur to both.