Australian Open: Stosur d. Zakopalova
There may be no player who looks as good one moment and as bad the next like Samantha Stosur. Her highs can be stratospheric—she's one of just three players to have beaten Serena Williams in a Grand Slam final (and she did so in straights). More often is when she controls a point, and therefore her opponent, with an array of baseline shots that few can keep up with.
But consistency has never been Stosur's calling card, both in her career—she's fallen to No. 17 in the rankings—and during matches. For after an efficient, straightforward opening set against Klara Zakopalova, Stosur was a different player, shanking balls and struggling mightily on serve. Thankfully for her, Zakopalova served even worse, and the top-seeded Aussie moved on with a 6-3, 6-4 win.
While the serve and return played a big role in this outcome, the shot of the match was Zakopalova's forehand. As she raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set, Zakopalova dictated the terms of rallies with her big cuts, sent Stosur scrambling with forehand blasts, and held the trump card—even over Stosur's potent forehand and kick serve. Ranked No. 32 but unseeded, Zakopalova generates easy power with her forehand, and it always seemed to catch Stosur off guard. Not that I can blame her, for I was just as surprised to see another forehand winner each time Zakopalova chose to hit out. If you only watched the second set, you could see why Stosur was unable to get a set from Zakopalova the last time they played, just days ago in the semis of Hobart.
With that recent history in mind, along with the choking pressure of performing at home—and, of course, a hot opponent across the net—Stosur had plenty to think about while trailing by two breaks at 4-1. But it was at this juncture when Stosur elevated herself beyond Zakopalova, particularly in return games. She cracked two return winners for 0-30, and a subsequent double fault seemed a direct result of these offensives. Stosur broke to trail 2-4, the second time Zakopalova slipped up with a double-break advantage, having also done so at 3-0. Now it was the Czech who had a lot to think about.
Much maligned for her mental struggles, Stosur proved to be the stronger player between the ears today. She managed a tough hold for 3-4, saved a break point while serving at 4-4, and capped a five-game run by breaking Zakopalova to win the match. Her backhand was a big reason why; both her two-hander and one-handed slice held up in exchanges.
Zakopalova showed off the slice, too, at 4-3, with a beautiful approach, forcing a weak reply from Stosur. Besides her forehand, it may have been the nicest shot Zakopalova hit today. It was followed by her worst, a two-handed volley/overhand, botched so badly that Rod Laver's statue turned away in disgust. On this day, it was Zakopalova's highs and lows in greater contrast.