It took her a while to get going, but Sam Stosur rediscovered her strut at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday night.
Tsvetana Pironkova’s home country of Bulgaria barely had a hard court to practice on 10 years ago, but the 26-year-old was able to make it look like she had been playing on them all her life last week in Sydney.
The qualifier won eight straight matches, beating three top-10 opponents, on the way to her maiden WTA title victory, before thumping Silvia Soler-Espinosa in the first round at the Australian Open.
But with Pironkova feeling the pinch after that run, a rampaging Stosur broke apart her game, and may have just given herself the belief she is an elite tennis player once again.
Stosur’s start to 2014 had been the polar opposite of Pironkova’s. She lost all three of her Hopman Cup fixtures. She barely survived scares against statistically inferior opponents in Hobart before losing to Klara Zakopalova in the semi-finals.
She won her first-round match in Melbourne, avenging her loss to Zakopalova, but it wasn’t convincing. There were anxious moments, all part of the Sam Stosur ride.
Last night it was nervous Sam early, and the old heads were groaning. “Here we go again,” someone mentioned in the media enclave.
Stosur missed two break-point opportunities in the first set. At 2-1 up, she had three break points and converted none – the worst, a meek run into the net and attempted forehand volley that should have been easy. Two games later, the same again.
Fortunately for the Australian, Pironkova was just as edgy. Stosur got the break, then the set, and things started to roll her way.
Showing the exertions of the big week prior, Pironkova took a medical timeout after the first set to have her left thigh strapped, but was clearly hampered.
Feeding off her weakened opponent, Stosur took complete control.
She displayed quick feet, improved execution, and was looking to attack Pironkova’s second serve with venom – it was a ruthless display.
Stosur would have been delighted to play herself into form following her tense start to 2014.
“I knew she must be playing pretty well to go through and win in Sydney as a qualifier,” she said in her post-match interview.
“I kept focused on what I wanted to do, kind of not let her have a foot in the door.
“If you can keep going and playing the way that you are and your opponent’s not feeling so great, it’s even easier to keep going.
“Whereas if you give them that little bit of a sniff, things can start going better, it can become a tight one.”
Stosur will need that momentum going forward. Ana Ivanovic awaits her in the third round; The Serbian 14th seed has been playing some good tennis this year, winning the Auckland Classic – beating Venus Williams and Kirsten Flipkens en route.
As the Stosur rollercoaster careers forward, a win over Ivanovic is very possible.
With Sam Stosur, as with tennis, nothing is certain – but perhaps a strong win against a lame opponent was just what she needed to rediscover her mojo.
Matt Walsh writes for Back Page Lead.