US Open 2011: Sam Stosur stuns Serena Williams in final

The 27-year-old Australian wins her first Grand Slam singles title after beating Serena Williams 6-2 6-3

samantha stosur
Stosur was a beaten finalist at Roland Garros in 2010 PA Photos

samantha stosur

The quietly-spoken Sam Stosur, who has often found the biggest stages too much to conquer, has become the first Australian woman to win the US Open title since Margaret Court took her fifth in 1973.

Stosur had made her quiet, record-making progress through the noisiest of Grand Slams from the very start. Ahead of her first US Open singles final, she had played not one of her six matches on the biggest stage in tennis, Arthur Ashe.

In the fourth round, she had broken the record for the longest women’s match in New York since tie-breaks were introduced in 1970. And in her quarter-final, she played the longest Open era tie-break, losing it 15-17.

She then faced the toughest challenge of her campaign: taking on most pundits’ pick for the title, 13-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams. And she did so on a day when patriotic intensity might have added an extra spur to the three-time US champion.

The final was preceded by a moving rendition of the Star Spangled Banner as the American flag was unfurled to mark the 10th anniversary of 9-11.

Stosur, now 27, was a late bloomer on the singles tour after making the transition from a successful doubles career: She won both the US and French doubles tiles.

In 2007, she contracted Lyme disease, which caused viral meningitis and took her out of tennis for almost a year. But it proved to be a spur to change.

Stosur worked her way back to fitness and up the rankings as she reduced her doubles activity to make an assault on her singles career. Her reward was a first Grand Slam final in Paris last year, beating Williams in three sets in the process.

The hard work continued as she built up her physical strength and her weaker backhand wing, and after a slow start to 2011, she reached the finals in Toronto””losing to Williams””and looked increasingly impressive through the US Open draw, beating Nadia Petrova, Maria Kirilenko, and then No2 seed Vera Zvonareva in the quarters.

However, in Williams, she faced, quite simply, a tour de force. The American was playing her 12th US Open and she had won the first of her 13 Majors here as a teenager in 1999.

Despite missing an entire year with injury and illness ahead of 2011’s grass season, Williams returned to the tour in supreme form, winning back-to-back titles in Stanford and Toronto. At Flushing, she had lost not a set””indeed she lost only three games in her first two matches. She was forced into only one tie-breaker””against the world No4 Victoria Azarenka””and made No1, Caroline Wozniacki, look ordinary in the semi-final.

She also topped the women’s ace count at 52″”33 more than the next and 39 more than Stosur.

Yet when the Australian walked onto Ashe, she had the look of someone entirely confident in the job at hand. And once the match began, it became clear that her biggest weapon, a ripping forehand that can pass the fastest opponent on both wings, was in match-winning shape.

Her serve, too, is a great shot, firing through at up to 110 mph and kicking like a mule, especially on the backhand side.

The x-factor, however, was a vastly improved backhand””in the past a vulnerable shot in the Stosur artillery””that proved to be key in turning defence into attack.

Stosur showed her intentions from the off and attacked Williams’ second service game to gain a break point. Her signature forehand forced an error and Stosur took the break, 2-1.

Another bullet of a forehand winner””at full stretch””brought up a further break point in the fifth as Williams’ first serve, a vital component in her attack, failed her. Stosur missed that chance but, stepping inside the baseline to attack every second serve, she brought up three more chances in the seventh and broke to lead 5-2.

Williams appeared uncomfortable with the pace that Stosur was setting, both in the match and in her shot-making, and managed to hit just 35 per cent of her first serves into play. The Australian served out the set to love.

Williams opened serve in the second set but quickly went 15-40 down as Stosur continued to take time away from the American by stepping inside the baseline at every opportunity. Williams saved the first with an ace and the second with a forehand winner””except she roared “c’mon” as she hit it and was penalised for distracting her opponent.

The controversial call gave the break to Stosur, and Williams was livid. She argued at length with the umpire and held up the Stosur serve as the capacity Ashe stadium jeered their support. Stosur eventually served through the hubbub but, with her concentration broken, her serve was broken too.

It felt like a switch in momentum: The incident had lit the fire in Williams’ belly. Her serve picked up””to 67 per cent””and a barrage of ground-strokes followed. But the Stosur fragility of old, the focus of attention from a sports psychologist this year, was nowhere to be seen. Despite facing two more break points in the fourth game, she held serve with two aces.

Even more impressive, Stosur began to counter the now furious attacking play from Williams with astute new tactics: a short sliced backhand to draw Williams forward followed by a winning forehand pass. Stosur’s sliced backhand stood up well in defence, too, keeping Williams pinned back until an opening appeared for Stosur to switch to the forehand.

The tactics paid off as Williams began to make frustrated errors. Stosur broke to lead, 5-3, and continued to fire her forehead heavily down the centre of the court and through Williams’ backhand wing to bring up two match points. Williams pulled back to deuce but Stosur, with””appropriately enough””two huge forehands, seized the day, 6-3.

It took her just 73 minutes to win her first Grand Slam singles title but it took a career of hard work to become one of the fittest women in tennis. She has now shown herself to be one of the strongest and smartest mentally, too.

Suffused with this new self-belief, it could be just the start for the slow-burning woman from Down Under.

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