Bud Collins

Stosur’s first-rate effort sends Serena packing

Samantha Stosur slammed No. 1 Serena Williams in the French Open quarterfinals. Samantha Stosur slammed No. 1 Serena Williams in the French Open quarterfinals. (Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press)
By Bud Collins
Globe Correspondent / June 3, 2010

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PARIS — Dangerous territory, the old brickyard, Roland Garros, if you’re somebody who has been designated No. 1 in the world.

Although that numeral probably doesn’t even exist except on a computer, everybody in the tennis sphere knows there are only two players currently atop that lofty perch — Serena Williams and Roger Federer. And they are constant targets for ambush. Or at least a buffeting by ill winds that sometimes puff the courts’ brick dust in their countenances. Sort of cream pies in the face out of an ancient movie.

Neither breezes nor pies had anything to do with what startlingly happened to the two top players within 24 hours at the French Open. They were shown the door — Federer on Tuesday, then Sister Serena yesterday in consecutive appearances on the principal court. It was a rare double ambush in the quarterfinals and made people take notice of a couple of contenders — Robin Soderling, the lone ranger of Sweden, who bounced Federer, and Samantha (Slammin’ Sam) Stosur, who may revive the tennis fortunes of Australia, a continent that once bloomed in the game. Soderling took Roger in four sets. A day later Stosur had Serena, 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 8-6.

Federer is teetering, his oneness moving in the direction of Rafael Nadal, the Spaniard who may have been born on a clay court. Though Sister Serena seems well-placed as the female No. 1, Stosur was able to blot a match point in her 2-hour-24-minute triumph over the 2002 champion.

“Never give a choker another chance,’’ should be Serena’s motto. Two more chances really. Behind handsome groundies, a dynamite forehand and controlling speeds, spins and angles, Slammin’ Sam worked her way to 5-3, 30-all in the second set – two points from victory, and with serve.

“I got nervous, tight,’’ she said, avoiding the word choke. It looked like a total collapse, Serena pulling herself together to win the tiebreaker, and win the first game of the final set. It took Sam another hour of hanging in to win.

“I was always serving from behind and that’s hard in the last set,’’ Stosur said. But she regained her nerve and ducked the match point with a winning forehand in the 10th game. Serena had given her another chance as Stosur held to 5-5. She held to 6-6 from 0-30, and pierced the American with a nifty backhand to 7-6.

“I was never so glad to see a ball go long,’’ Stosur said with a grin, recalling her own match point, a backhand that Serena just missed.

Serena was correct in saying she wasn’t in her best form.

“I wish I had two more minutes in the right place — that match point she saved,’’ said Williams.

But since winning the Australian Open in January she has played only four tournaments. Not enough. For whatever reasons? Never clear from her. She blew a match point to Jelena Jankovic in the Italian semis. Until lately, Serena was the tigerish rescuer of match points (one while winning Wimbledon last summer). But she has failed to save those two biggies lately.

A bout with Lyme disease benched the sturdy Stosur for months in 2007, and nearly caused her to quit. She’s glad to be back and healthy, and having tamed a wayward forehand, the shot that knocked out favored Justine Henin in the fourth round.

“You never knew where Sam’s forehands would land,’’ said a friend, laughing. “The flying forehand. But at least tennis balls can’t cause much damage.’’

Growing up on Australia’s Gold Coast, not far from Brisbane, she recalls being a 9-year-old listening to a radio broadcast of her heroines, Steffi Graf and Monica Seles, battling for the Aussie title in 1993 and wanting to do so herself.

She is the first Aussie to reach the French semifinals since Nicole Provis in 1988. But you would have to dig way down to find a compatriot winning the title here: Margaret Court beating Chrissie Evert in 1973. Her next obstacle, today, is Jankovic while Francesca Schiavone opposes Elena Dementieva.

The larger goal for seventh-seeded Stosur is, of course, to earn that nifty jersey with the invisible No. 1 on the back.