Williams exits French Open with loss to Stosur
June 2, 2010
PARIS – Serena Williams is usually the one who saves match points, not wastes them.
Who seizes control of an exchange, not cedes it.
Who turns up her game at Grand Slam time.
Except at the French Open, the lone major tournament she’s won only once and where she’s now gone seven years without even reaching the semifinals.
The No. 1-ranked Williams dropped 17 consecutive points during one stretch, climbed all the way back to within a point of victory, then faded late and lost to No. 7 Samantha Stosur of Australia 6-2, 6-7 (2), 8-6 on Wednesday in the Roland Garros quarterfinals.
“Had I played better for two minutes, maybe the result could have been different. But it didn’t work out,” said Williams, who missed a forehand by an inch or so when she held a match point at 5-4 in the final set. “Just wasn’t playing well today. Last year, I choked. I guess it’s a redundant story with me.”
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The upset was Stosur’s second in a row – she eliminated four-time champion Justine Henin in the fourth round – and came a day after men’s No. 1 and defending champion Roger Federer was stunned by Robin Soderling.
“It’s not over yet,” said Stosur, a tour-best 19-2 on clay this season and a 2009 French Open semifinalist. “I want to definitely try and keep going.”
In keeping with the run of surprises at this wide-open French Open, No. 22 Jurgen Melzer of Austria came back to beat No. 3 Novak Djokovic 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the last men’s quarterfinal. Melzer, at 29 the oldest man left, never before won a match after losing the first two sets – and never made it beyond the third round at any Grand Slam tournament in 31 previous tries.
His reward? A semifinal Friday against four-time champion Rafael Nadal, who eliminated No. 19 Nicolas Almagro 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3), 6-4. Nadal, who lost to Soderling in last year’s fourth round, extended his current winning streak on clay to 20 matches.
In one women’s semifinal Thursday, Stosur will play No. 4 Jelena Jankovic, who got past unseeded Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 7-5, 6-4. No. 5 Elena Dementieva will face No. 17 Francesca Schiavone in the other.
For the first time at any Grand Slam tournament since the 1979 Australian Open, none of the four female semifinalists owns a major title. Williams has 12, with five at the Australian Open – including this year – and three apiece at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. The one at the French Open came in 2002, and she was a semifinalist in Paris the following year, but not since.
“Maybe she was trying to get over that hump,” said Williams’ mother, Oracene Price. “That might have been on her mind.”
Williams never hid her frustrations against Stosur, who wore her usual white baseball cap and red-rimmed wraparound shades as the sun finally returned after several days of clouds and rain.
Williams admonished herself aloud, sometimes muttering, sometimes screaming. She shook her head and put a hand on her hip. She crouched and rolled her eyes.
Her own serve was a friend – accumulating 13 aces – and a foe – yielding nine double-faults. The rest of Williams’ strokes were a mixed bag, too: She finished with more winners than Stosur, 39-30, and nearly twice as many unforced errors, 46-24.
“I definitely was nowhere near my best today,” Williams said, then added: “But she played really well.”
About an hour after that loss, Williams went back on court to team with her older sister Venus and reach the women’s doubles final by beating Liezel Huber and Anabel Medina Garrigues 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. That victory means Serena Williams will top the WTA rankings in singles and doubles as of next week.
The younger Williams isn’t accustomed to getting pushed around on a court, but that’s exactly what Stosur managed to do, commanding points with deep groundstrokes lathered with spin.
“I didn’t want to let her try and dictate the points early on, so I tried to do that straight back to her,” said Stosur, who recently switched to the same sort of synthetic racket strings Nadal uses. “You can’t give her much.”
Remarkably, starting from the match’s sixth game, Stosur claimed 17 points in a row – including three games at love – to win the opening set and move ahead in the second. Official statistics aren’t kept on those sorts of things, but it’s hard to imagine Williams going through a drought quite like that, particularly on such an important stage.
“Knew it wasn’t over,” Stosur said. “Serena can turn things around very quickly.”
At 5-3 in the second set, Stosur served for the match. She was two points away at 30-all, but put a running forehand into the net, then stumbled and fell to the rust-colored clay on the next point, allowing Williams to make an easy putaway for the service break.
“I didn’t know if I was going to get another chance,” said Stosur, who has 22 doubles titles and two in singles.
She entered the day 1-3 against Williams, including a loss on a hard court in Sydney, Australia, in 2009, when Stosur let four match points slip away. There’s no shame in that against Williams, though: She’s made a habit of great escapes, saving match points en route to three of her Grand Slam championships.
This time, Williams let Stosur get out of trouble.
Ahead 5-4 in the third set, Williams earned a match point with Stosur serving at 30-40. Williams cracked a forehand passing shot that barely landed long.
“I don’t have anything to regret on that point,” Williams said.
But she’d never come that close to victory again. Even though Williams was playing in her 30th major quarterfinal, and Stosur in her second, it was the underdog who was calmer down the stretch.
Stosur hit a forehand winner, then an ace at 116 mph, to get to 5-5. Three games later, Williams made a pair of groundstroke errors to provide an opening, and Stosur barged through.
The Australian smacked back-to-back passing winners – first a forehand, then a backhand at a tough angle – to break for a 7-6 lead.
Once again, she had the chance to serve out the victory. This time, she did it, closing with three straight service winners. When Williams’ final backhand return sailed long, Stosur raised her arms, then propped those signature sunglasses atop her hat.
After shaking hands at the net, Stosur sat in her green sideline bench and covered her face with her hands, soaking in the moment, while Williams hastily packed her bags.
More than 1 1/2 hours later, perhaps enough time to let the win soak in and look ahead, Stosur was asked to discuss facing Jankovic.
A smiling Stosur replied, “I haven’t thought about it at all.”