October 18, 2009

The Breakthrough

I think it's safe to say that, before today, Australia's Sam Stosur was the best WTA player without a singles title to her name.

But this has been her comeback year, and one of hard-fought re-establishment as part of tennis's elite. Once ranked at the top of the doubles circuit, she missed most of 2007 and a chunk of last year with a viral illness, dropping well into the triple-digits before getting back on course. When 2009 began, she was the best player in her country -- even ranked higher than former #1 Lleyton Hewitt -- and took no time in fighting her way back.

In March Stosur made the quarterfinals in Miami, beating top seed Dinara Safina on the way. But her biggest success came a few months in Paris where she made the semis, her best ever Grand Slam showing. Over the summer she defeated French Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova in Toronto, Serena Williams in Stanford, and made the finals in Los Angeles. As a result Sam had earned her highest career ranking, breaking into the top twenty for the first time.

Still the ultimate goal of a singles trophy continued to elude her -- at least until today.

As the third seed this week in Osaka, Sam had a relatively easy time in her early rounds. She didn't drop a set in her first three rounds, and was steadfast in the semis against U.S. Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki, a woman who'd beaten her 6-1 in their last two third sets.

In the championship match today, Stosur faced a feisty Francesca Schiavone. The Italian has had her own struggles this year, beginning 2009 with a handful of early-round losses but also out-lasting her seeding in Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She played one less match in Japan, thanks to a third-round walkover, but earned her second final of the year with a decisive win over Sania Mirza.

But Sam was just too much to handle today. After a tight first set, Stosur rolled over Francesca in the second, 6-1, to claim her first career title -- and if she stays healthy and as strong as she's been all year, it looks like this is just the well-deserved first of many after a very long wait!

Incidentally after a week rife with retirements in Shanghai, Rafael Nadal finally made his way to that championship match to face Nikolay Davydenko. And after a tough two hours in China it was the Russian who walked away with the trophy -- his fourth of the year. While it might have been disappointing for Rafa, who benefitted from two consecutive opponents withdrawing from their matches, making the finals of a Masters event has to give him some confidence going into the last leg of the year. Here's hoping next time he can convert!

No comments: