It’s hard to carry the weight of an entire nation’s hopes on one shoulders. On Friday, those expectations of a championship run at the Australian Open came crashing down on 5th-seed and hometown hopeful Samantha Stosur’s shoulders as she watched Petra Kvitova rip 35 winners against her to oust the Australian star from the tournament 7-6 (5) 6-3. There was some shaky play from Stosur, but the story of the match was the aggressive play from the 2010 WTA Newcomer of the Year Kvitova. What was so surprising was how Kvitova was able to attack the Stosur serve, and particularly her second serve, normally a great asset for Samantha. But the kick serve just didn’t have enough kick on this day, as Kvitova won 72% of points off Stosur’s second serve. How far can Kvitova go? She could go as far as being the title winner. She already has a title in 2011, the Brisbane International, knocking off Nadia Petrova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrea Petkovic en route to the title. She now has taken out Samantha Stosur in straight sets in front of a partisan Aussie crowd. The sky is the limit for this 20-year old from the Czech Republic.
Struggling far more than the 7-6 (3) 6-3 winning score would indicate was tournament and fan favorite Kim Clijsters, who advanced past Alize Cornet but nearly made a mess of things with her erratic play. What I have always said has been Clijsters’ Achilles heel when it comes to winning more Slams, and more titles overall, is that she has these inexplicable sleepwalking type matches where she is just not sharp mentally. Sometimes, as againt Cornet, she is able to get by. Other times, like last year against Nadia Petrova, she is shown the exit. Take last year’s loss to Vera Zvonareva at Wimbledon. Kim came out and looked unbeatable in the first set only to seemingly drift away and stop trying to set up points, opting to try for winners on early balls. Last week against LI Na at Medibank International Sydney, she raced out to a 5-0 first set lead only to go into that zone again and let Li win the set and the match. Yes, both Zvonareva and Li started to play better, but a lot of their clawing back into the match had to do with Clijsters falling out of rhythm and not being able to mentally stay on track. When she does stay sharp mentally, as she did against Zvonareva in the final of the 2010 US Open, she is nearly unbeatable. Against Cornet she’d get up a break and then start spraying easy open-court put aways long or into the net. She looked for the entire match like she was a half step off with her footing. If this had been Ekaterina Makarova in the next round instead of Cornet, Kim would not have survived to play another round. As it is, Kim will need to regroup and bring her A-game against Makarova, not the game she brought to Cornet or else “Aussie Kim” will join Samantha Stosur on the sidelines.
Also getting a harder than expected match was 2nd-seed Vera Zvonareva of Russia, whose 6-3 7-6 (9) win over the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova was a point away from a third set with Safarova building momentum. Although Vera controlled the first set fairly well, Safarova started to really rip big shots, particularly off her forehand. Lucie was playing almost a LI Na style of high risk-high reward style where she banged a lot of winners…but also a lot of errors. Still, after fighting her way into a tie-break to try to push Vera to a third set, Lucie saved two match points with blistering forehands, but could not convert a set point into an open court. Zvonareva, if she is going to win her first Slam next week, must shore up her second serve, as Safarova was able to hammer it as will any of the big hitters she might potentially face in a semifinal or final.
Other day 6 winners included PENG Shuai, who continued the success of Chinese women down under. Last year it was LI Na and ZHENG Jie advancing to the semifinals. This year Li looks like maybe the best player so far in the women’s draw and Peng is making a Cinderella run. In a couple of mild upsets, Flavia Pennetta defeated Shahar Peer while Ekaterina Makarova ousted Nadia Petrova. I say they are mild because I honestly didn’t look at Peer or Petrova as real threats in this tournament. Also, Pennetta and Makarova are both very good players who should be capable of pulling an upset if they play well. However, the Makarova win over Petrova did rob us of seeing a rematch of last year’s Clijsters-Petrova match where Nadia handed Kim her worst career defeat. I don’t think that would have happened again. In fact, I think Kim would have come into that potentially match-up mentally focused and prepared to not let that occur. Kim probably would have taken out Petrova in straight sets this year. But the Makarova-Clijsters match is intriguing. The big lefty has a real chance to upset Clijsters. Kim better be sharp and ready.
Singles – Third Round
(2) Vera Zvonareva (RUS) d. (31) Lucie Safarova (CZE) 63 76(9)
(3) Kim Clijsters (BEL) d. Alizé Cornet (FRA) 76(3) 63
(25) Petra Kvitova (CZE) d. (5) Samantha Stosur (AUS) 76(5) 63
(22) Flavia Pennetta (ITA) d. (10) Shahar Peer (ISR) 36 76(3) 64
(12) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) d. Simona Halep (ROU) 61 62
Ekaterina Makarova (RUS) d. (13) Nadia Petrova (RUS) 62 36 86
Iveta Benesova (CZE) d. (16) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 63 16 75
Peng Shuai (CHN) d. Ayumi Morita (JPN) 61 36 63