Thursday 22 February 2018

Tennis: Serena comes up short in Stosur strength test

Serena Williams returns the ball to Australia's Sam Stosur during their quarter-final match at the French Open. Photo: Getty Images
Serena Williams returns the ball to Australia's Sam Stosur during their quarter-final match at the French Open. Photo: Getty Images

Mark Hodgkinson At Roland Garros

IT WAS just three years ago that Sam Stosur barely had the energy to push a trolley around a supermarket, as at the time she had Lyme disease, a debilitating condition which is usually picked up from tick bites, and yet it was a moot point here at Roland Garros whether it was the Australian or Serena Williams who had more power in her biceps.

If they had spent their afternoon playing a fairground game of 'test your strength' by swinging a hammer and trying to ring a bell, there would not have been much in it, and it was also extremely close when they were swinging rackets at yellow felt in this quarter-final of the French Open with Stosur staving off a match point in the third set before taking it 8-6.

It doesn't happen too often that Williams, the world No 1 and a winner of 12 Grand Slam titles, including the 2002 French Open, can't hit through an opponent, but this was one such occasion and Stosur's 6-2, 6-7, 8-6 victory guarantees that there will there will be a new name on La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

Since Stosur, Jelena Jankovic, Francesca Schiavone and Elena Dementieva also haven't won any titles in Melbourne, London or New York City, Saturday afternoon will also see one of the quartet winning her first Grand Slam trophy.

Given the quality of the opposition that Stosur has beaten in her last couple of matches, there is every chance that the world No 7 could go on to become Australia's first champion in Paris since Margaret Court 37 years ago. The round before beating Williams, Stosur dealt with Justine Henin, the most successful clay-court player of her generation, for what was the Belgian's first defeat in Paris for six years.

And she could easily have beaten Williams in two sets, rather than three, as she served for the second set at 5-3. She came within a couple of points of taking that second set.

As it was, the Australian Open champion broke Stosur, took the tiebreak, and had a match point when Stosur was serving at 4-5 in the decider. Still, Stosur held and then broke for 7-6 with some fine shot-making.

The second time she served for a place in the semi-finals, she held on to her delivery, and so after almost two and a half hours, she was into the last four for the second year in succession. Last season, she lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova, of Russia, the eventual champion.

Stosur, who plays in sunglasses, will meet Jankovic, a former world No 1 whose victory over Yaroslava Shvedova will be remembered for a fabulous air-shot blooper from the Kazakhstani.

It was the simplest of smashes at the net, after a poor lob from Jankovic, yet there was a lot of fresh air between the ball and Shvedova's racket, and the miss prompted snorted laughter from around Court Suzanne Lenglen, as well as from her opponent. It was an instant YouTube classic, and for the rest of the afternoon it was difficult to pass by a television set in the grounds without seeing yet another replay.

In the bottom half of the draw, Schiavone, the first Italian woman in the modern era to reach the semi-finals of a slam, plays Dementieva.

Meanwhile, Jurgen Melzer, an Austrian ranked 27 in the world, came from two sets to love down against Novak Djokovic, Serbia's world No 3, to reach his first grand slam semi-final. If Melzer hadn't converted his third match point for a 3-6, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 victory that took four and a quarter hours, he would have spent the rest of his career recalling what had happened on his first when, standing over the net, and with an open court to aim at, he pushed a volley into the net.

So it was Djokovic who was left frustrated as he struggled to contain his fury when a line call went against him while Melzer was serving for the match at 5-4 0-15 in the deciding set.

The Serbian was adamant his shot had clipped the line, and although the umpire came down to check the mark on the clay, the ball was given as out.

"For somebody who is a chair umpire of so many years and years experience to make such a mistake at that point is unbelievable," Djokovic said.

"I don't know what was going on with him, but the ball looked good from everywhere. Even on the TV, you could see it was good."

Melzer will now have an all-leftie meeting with Rafael Nadal.

The other three members of the top four all failed to justify their seedings, since Andy Murray lost in the fourth round to Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer was beaten by Robin Soderling in the quarter-finals.

Nadal has continued through the draw, and if he wins the tournament he will regain the world No 1 ranking on Monday morning. Nadal is yet to drop a set this fortnight, through he was pushed during his 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory over fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro. (Daily Telegraph, London)

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