We heard a lot before this tournament from the players about how “tough” it was going to be. There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide in Istanbul; there are no easy draws and few moments to rest.
But even at this event, it’s rare to see as tough a turnaround as the one that Sam Stosur was forced to negotiate in her opening two matches. First, she was drawn against two players, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, whom she had never beaten in 13 collective attempts. Then, after she finally broke through against the first of those opponents, Sharapova, at 11 P.M. on Tuesday, she had to come out at 5 P.M. the next day to try to do the same to Azarenka.
From a physical standpoint, this was hardly a Herculean task. Players have to go out on back-to-back days many times over the course of the season. But from the emotional side, it left Stosur vulnerable to a letdown—it’s hard enough coming up with one of the biggest wins of your career, but that much harder coming up with two in a row.
It was too much for Stosur, who lost to Azarenka in routine 6-2, 6-2, fashion. As well as Stosur played on Tuesday, that’s exactly how poorly she started today. The first sign of trouble came early, at 1-1, when she took an easy forehand near the net, a shot that she buries 99 out of a hundred times, and plunked it over the baseline. She was broken in that game on four unforced errors, the floodgates were open, and the mistakes spread from her forehand to, well, everywhere else. At 1-3, Stosur sent two forehands into the net, got back to deuce with an ace, and proceeded to lose the game with two backhands into the net. By 1-5, she was yelling at herself. By the start of the second set, she was caught in no-man’s land, she dumped tentative backhand approaches into the tape, and, most mortifying of all, she clanged her favorite shot, her overhead, five feet wide.
Of course, Stosur has never liked playing Azarenaka—she’s now 0-5 against her—and you can see why. Vika spread the court with wide first serves to one side and equally wide backhands to the other. This forced Stosur to stretch for one-handed backhands, and it allowed Azarenka to take the offensive without taking on too much risk. Azarenka is coming off a title in Luxembourg, and this was the highly efficient and confident performance of a player who knows how to win at the moment. At the end of the first set, Azarenka had a tidy three winners and three errors, and she hadn’t faced a break point.
The only trouble spot came, as it often does, when she served out the match at 5-2 in the second. Stosur, with nothing to lose, finally found her range, and finally earned a break point. But Azarenka stuck to the game plan of controlled aggression and fought through her match-ending nerves to hold. You couldn’t ask for a better start for her: She’s 1-0 in matches, 2-0 in sets, and she wasn’t tested physically to get there.
For Stosur, it was a lesson in round-robin tennis, one that, in the right frame of mind, she can use to her advantage. Every day is a new one in Istanbul, and there are plenty of second chances.