Samantha Stosur’s Australian Open bid ended at the first hurdle for the fifth time on Tuesday when she was no match for Englishwoman Heather Watson in a topsy-turvy three-set affair.
Not that you would have known from the start. Stosur looked on from the word go.
She strode onto Margaret Court Arena and, in contrast to her opponent, struck the ball powerfully and purposefully in her warm-up.
Even after the chair umpire had called an end to the hit-up, Stosur was still serving, leaving Watson to survey her surroundings at a half-full stadium – a far cry from Rod Laver Arena, where Australia’s top-ranked female player normally plays.
Watson won a couple of cheap points to start the first game but Stosur was in top form, rattling off nine consecutive points, including a break to love, with a display that showcased her power and, when required, finesse.
It was excellent tennis but didn’t seem to excite the crowd, who were subdued and overshadowed by the faint sound of an overhead helicopter.
There were no Fanatics or like-minded individuals in attendance, either.
Perhaps they knew what was about to come. They’d probably seen it before.
From a strong position, Stosur folded, making unforced error after unforced error and allowing Watson a way back into the first set.
Before you knew it, Watson had won five games in a row and she closed out the opener 6-3 in just 33 minutes.
It was an almighty collapse.
Stosur was prepared to die by the sword, though, and found her rhythm to take charge early in the second set.
She broke for 2-0 – the moment the crowd finally awoke from their heat-induced slumber – and then consolidated it.
And her comeback looked on after a marathon seventh game, when Stosur survived a case of bad luck and jitters to hold serve at 5-2, before winning the second set.
Word had clearly spread around Melbourne Park as the fans filed in expecting to see a tight tussle in a match that had, in the build-up, been dubbed the ‘Ashes’ moment of the Open.
But for Australia, this was Trent Bridge all over again.
Watson, who previously had set out to keep the ball in at all costs and let Stosur make errors, became more aggressive.
Her down-the-line winner at full stretch to take a 2-0 lead in the third set was a thing of beauty. And Stosur, try as she did, could not recover.
A 6-0 scoreline in the decider was slightly deceptive – many of the games were competitive.
But Watson was still far too good when it mattered, even if Stosur produced something from the very top draw with a sublime cross-court winner at 0-3 and facing a break point.
As the third set played on, the strains of ‘Come on Sam’ from the crowd sounded more and more like a parent rushing the kids to school instead of encouragement.
The fans knew the match was gone. So did Stosur. And with it, another Australian summer.
Asked by The New Daily to explain her first-set collapse, Stosur said: “I feel like I got off to a good start and then got a little bit, kind of, erratic, up and down.”
On her failure to perform at the Australian Open – she has played at the event 15 times for a best finish of a fourth-round defeat (twice) – she added: “It’s just disappointing. I mean, you get a bit sick of this feeling.
“It’s one of those things. You’re disappointed, you’re upset, angry … at the end of the day I feel like I’ve done everything I can to try and prepare as best as I can. I gave it my best shot and it didn’t happen, again.”
Other Aussies in action
There was better news for some of Stosur’s compatriots on day two, with Jordan Thompson coming from two sets down to defeat Portugal’s Joao Souza 6-7 (2-7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, while Andrew Whittington also posted a victory and will now play 20th seed Ivo Karlovic.
Christopher O’Connell came close to taking a set off 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov but went down in straight sets, as did Omar Jasika, Alex Bolt and Blake Mott.
In the women’s draw, 22nd seed Daria Gavrilova overcame Naomi Broady in a tough three-setter, 3-6 6-4 7-5 to advance to the second round. Fellow Aussies Arina Rodionova and Lizette Cabrera were beaten in straight sets.