If No.1 Caroline Wozniacki can't get more than six games off Serena Williams, and a phalanx of other young and talented players couldn't take a set off her in her first six matches, is it even conceivable that she could go down to Aussie veteran Samantha Stosur in the US Open final on Sunday?
Possibly, if Stosur plays the match of her life. But with the way Serena is managing her matches by serving huge when she needs to, burying her returns, hitting cleanly from the baseline and taking over the net when necessary, it will take a monster effort.
“[Stosur] definitely would have to serve well,” said Wozniacki who fell to Serena 6-2, 6-4. “She definitely needs to get a lot of first serves in and try just to go for her shots. But I still think Serena has the edge, and I still think that Serena will win tomorrow.”
After nearly being off the tour for a year due to injury and an illness that nearly took her life, Serena is playing with house money. She appears to be calmer than she has in the past and is coolly dissecting her opponents. But despite being 12 years older and much more mature than the girl who won her first major title at the US Open in 1999, she does share some of the same characteristics.
“Wow, I mean, in '99 I was just so excited,” she said. “I had this feeling I was gonna win the whole time, and playing Martina Hingis, I knew I could beat her because I beat her before. I just felt it. Now it's just like a little bit of a veteran, 13 Grand Slams under my belt. So I have a lot more experience, but I'm just excited as I was before.”
Despite all the attention paid to Serena’s incredibly impressive comeback, the soft-spoken, big-hitting Stosur has had a terrific run too and took a 6-3, 2-6, 6 -win over Angelique Kerber.
Since reaching the 2010 Roland Garros final, Stosur has struggled to secure her place in the top 10, let alone the top 5. Even though she is armed with the tour's most vicious kick serve and heaviest inside-out forehand, she needed to smooth out the rough edges of her game, let alone regain confidence after a poor start to 2011. In the Australian Open she was blown off the court by Petra Kvitova, she reached just one quarterfinal during the US spring hard court season and didn’t even begin to make progress until her feet touched the red clay again April.
She thought that it was possible that she would make it back to a big dance at a major again, but she wasn't convinced.
“Multiple people came up to me and said, 'You're gonna get another chance,” Stosur said. 'You can come back and make it again.' Of course you want to believe that, but until it happens, you never know if that's the case. So now to be able to turn it around again and have this result, I guess they were right. Now I have another chance to try and win another one.”
Stosur is much more resilient than she once was and has worked diligently on court at improving a mediocre two-handed backhand and spotty net attack. Like Rafa Nadal, the right-hander uses her massive forehand to dictate play. But she does not have his foot speed, so she needs to be design points correctly in order to win them.
But she's always been committed to improving, and while practice doesn't always make perfect, it can give a player the knowledge that her base is getting more and more solid.
“Every day you go out and practice,” she said. “Obviously I've got my group around me that are fully 100 percent behind me and believe in me. And whether it's this tournament or the tournament last week, we always go for the same thing and work hard and do our best. It's what you play for. You try and do it for these moments. Hopefully it goes well.”
Stosur comes from a country with a slew of Grand Slam champions, but the last two great women Australian players, Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong, peaked in the late 1960s and 1970s. Stosur is Australia’s most accomplished singles player since Wendy Turnbull in the 1980s, but like America does with its players, the Aussies have a high bar for their players, which means winning majors. Taking her first title would more than satisfy Stosur.
“It would be an absolute dream come true,” she said. “It's great that now I've got a second chance to try and win one of these titles.”
Stosur is one of a few players who have beaten Serena at a Grand Slam when she stunned her at 2010 Roland Garros. However, Serena does own a 4-2 lead in their head to head match-ups and is much better hard-court player than she is when sliding on dirt.
Stosur did upend Williams at 2009 Stanford on outdoor hard courts, but Serena has scored routine wins over her, including the 2010 Australian Open and at 2011 Toronto last month. Trying to take out an Amercian legend on Ashe Stadium is a big ask, but at the very least, the 27-year-old Stosur won’t get the rookie jitters.
“I think the one good thing is that one of the matches I beat Serena was actually in a Grand Slam,” she said. “So I think that's obviously a big, confidence boost. But every tournament is new, and she's obviously been playing extremely well and I'm sure it's always to win Grand Slam titles. It's gonna be tough.”