US 7¾- Zombie Queen, Thy Name is Sam
Darn you, Sam. You've made me create a new first-of-its-kind "morning after" (well, maybe "Brunch-time") Backspin special.
Hmm, what to say about last night's thrilling Women's Round of 16 match-up between #5 Samantha Stosur and #12 Elena Dementieva? Well, I mean, other than that it was by far the best nighttime match to date at this Open, and very well could be the match of the tournament, period. Ending at 1:35 a.m., it was the latest-finishing women's match in U.S. Open history, and the fifth-latest on the Open's all-time list. But it wasn't just about the lateness of the final match point being converted, it was also about the mostly-sterling, always hard-nosed, play of the two players, and the five match points that weren't converted before the final one finally was.
Showing just how a potential slam champion should comport herself -- taking the initiative, not blinking even while being broken five straight times (not holding once in the 2nd set after having won the 1st), and burrowing down to survive when it looked like all hope was lost -- Stosur added yet another chapter to her growing autobiographical tome about how to mold oneself into a possible slam champ (if not next weekend, one day) sometimes in spite of yourself.
Stosur came into this Round of 16 match with an 0-4 career mark against Dementieva on hard courts, but it was she who took contorl early, breaking the Russian for a 2-0 advantage. With Dementieva having a hard time converting big points (note to self), Stosur took the set 6-3. The 2nd, though, was a story with a different twist, as five of first six games were won by the player returning serve. In fact, the Aussie never held, going 0-for-4, and Dementieva won 6-2.
The 3rd set, though, was the masterpiece. A controlled rollercoaster of emotion, it was precisely the sort of enviroment in which Stosur used to never have a chance of thriving in. Usually, she'd just fall flat on her face and live to lose another day. Just the thought of losing in Sammy's mind used to make it become a reality, as once the Aussie believed it to be possible, her reservations for a congratulatory handshake at the net for her victorious opponent were all but reserved and paid for out of her own pocket.
No more. Somewhere along the line, she's changed.
Oh, she still hasn't convinced herself that she can be a good grass court player, but maybe she HAS learned to accept that she can win on a fast hard court. Her Paris exploits (a SF and RU) the last two years seems to have finally taken up residence in the recesses of her slingin' mind, and she's now capable of accessing them in a moment of need. Last night on Ashe, her cataloging skills proved very useful, as such a moment (a few of them, actually) arrived.
Early on in the final set, Dementieva saved a break point and held for 1-0, then broke Stosur for a fifth straight time to go up 2-0. Down 3-0, many players would have crumbled (including the Aussie two or three years ago), but Stosur didn't. She held on for dear life, finally winning one of her own service games to get to 3-1, then broke the Russian for 3-2. But her time of peril wasn't over. A series of defensive backhands from Dementieva elicited a Stosur error to get another break of serve and allow herself to serve for the match at 5-3.
In that game, Dementieva held a match point, but pushed a shot just wide right of the sideline in a rally in which she was in good standing and had Stosur backpedaling to get to the shot. With a chance lost, Dementieva was broken for 5-4. In the next game, the Aussie was given every reason to accept defeat once again, but she stubborning refused to do so. Her own double-fault gave the Russian a second match point. She saved it. A dipping crosscourt Dementieva backhand gave her a third. Stosur saved it, too. A fourth? The Aussie survived again, for the third time in a single game. She held for 5-5, then broke Dementieva for 6-5 and the chance to serve out the match.
At this point, though, you sort of knew the script.
Stosur held a match point on her own serve, but didn't convert. Dementieva got a break and it was onto a tie-break. There, Slingin' Sam seized the match by the throat and squeezed. The Russian had no air left to breath new life into her chances. Stosur went up a mini-break at 3-0, and rolled to a 7-2 win to reach her first U.S. Open quarterfinal, 6-3/2-6/7-6.
With the final result, also, might have gone Dementieva's last best chance to win a slam. After a porous summer and a slow comeback from the calf injury that kept her out of Wimbledon (where she'd held MP against eventual champ Serena Williams in the SF a year earlier), she came into NYC looking like her game could peak at Flushing Meadows. For all intents and purposes, it did, too. But it wasn't enough against Stosur. In the end, this 4th Round match reminded me a bit of the Hordette's recent SF loss to Caroline Wozniacki last in New Haven.
There, Dementieva had a break point for 4-1 in the 3rd, and served for the match at 5-3. Wozniacki held three match points at 6-5 on Dementieva's serve, but Punch-Sober pulled out one of her at-her-best-when-she's-behind strings and ran off eight straight points, taking a 3-0 lead in the deciding tie-break. It wasn't enough. The Dane produced the last late-match surge, winning seven of the final nine points to take the TB 7-5 (and end with a 109-107 edge in total points for the match). As I said in my preview for this Open, "(Dementieva's) SF loss at the Pilot Pen to C-Woz was both good (it showed she's still got it) and potentially bad (she still knows how to lose a close one, too)."
The Russian always seems to come up just short in moments like this, and she's running out of chances at nearly age 29 to turn that career trait on its ear. In fact, with a new generation of stars asserting themselves and the best of Dementieva's own having great late-career success, she's in danger of being squeezed out of nearly every slam's final eight. The last second of that slam-winning biological clock might have just ticked down to 00:00 for Punch-Sober.
Stosur is the first Aussie to reach the U.S. Open quarters since Wendy Turnbull in 1986, and she's shown herself to be very proficient in coming back from the dead. She might not be finished in New York, either.
In PARIS, she defeated Justine Henin in the Round of 16. That almost NEVER happens. She then followed up the win by coming back from MP down to defeat Serena in the QF. That NEVER happens. Stosur's already regrouped from being a set and a break down in the 1st Round of this tournament against Elena Vesnina in a slam in which the Slingin' one arrived having lost six of her last seven NYC matches. Now this.
All hail, this Open's "Zombie Queen."
Stosur beat Serena and Justine in back-to-back matches a few months ago, so why should a Dementieva/Kim Clijsters combo make her quake in her shoes? She CAN do it. The question is, does SAMMY believe she still has at least one more grave to rise from on the grand slam stage in 2010?
"The Legend of Slingin' Sam" may not be a myth after all. We'll find out soon enough.
All for now. More later today.