PARIS—The plan for Sam Stosur, who had a full five inches on her opponent, Dominika Cibulkova, was simple. Use her WTA-best kick serve, and her high-bouncing topspin forehand, to get the ball up above Cibulkova’s shoulders. That’s what Stosur did from her first service game on. She bounced her serve high enough to force Cibulkova to move back to the far corner of Chatrier’s very spacious playing surface. And she followed it by adding extra topspin to her forehand, baiting Cibulkova into going for too much from too high in her strike zone.
The result was that Stosur gained easy control of rallies, while Cibulkova never found a rhythm. This is how Cibulkova plays—hit and miss, hit and miss—but from the moment she was broken at 2-2 in the first, she was playing uphill tennis. It felt like one winner was followed by two misfires, though in truth it wasn’t quite that bad; Cibulkova committed 28 errors and hit 19 winners. Where she struggled most was on break points. Stosur faced 10 and surrendered just one. The three biggest came at love-40 in her first service game of the second set. Stosur hit two winners, held serve, and dropped just one more game on her way to a routine, 85-minute, 6-4, 6-1 win. Any chance that the momentum might shift after the first set was snuffed out.
Stosur is in her third semifinal at Roland Garros in the last four years, and she won this one going away. She finished with 30 winners against 13 errors, and if Cibulkova was playing uphill, Stosur appeared to be doing the opposite—she was able to consistently get around to hit her forehand from shoulder level. If Sam can keep getting that shot, and keep her winner-error ratio as clean as she did today, it's going to be tough for anyone to push her off that hill.