It just wouldn’t be a Labour Day weekend without some drama after the sun goes down and the lights come on.
What was originally scheduled as the third match on Arthur Ashe was pushed all the way to a late start on the Grandstand as to avoid delaying the night session, and the fans were treated to some tennis dessert as Samantha Stosur took on Maria Kirilenko.
The first set was all Stosur from the beginning, dominating from the baseline off the forehand wing and troubling Kiri with her big kick serve. Kiri scratched out a hold and broke Sam serving for the set, but was then broken herself, and the set was over in a blink, 6-2.
From then on, MaKiri decided it was do our die, and it was a beautiful thing to see. Instead of trying to out hit Sam from the baseline, she took any and every opportunity she could to get to the net. This often meant taking short balls inside out on the forehand and pushing Sam to her weaker backhand side. It was textbook net rushing harkening back to the often used strategy of 20 years ago and more.
The greatest part, however, was that it was working. A wonderful doubles player in her own right, it didn’t matter if it was forehand, backhand, or right at her, Kiri had all the answers at the net.
After a grind of a set, it was off to a tiebreak, one that is now already partly legendary. Set points and match points saved abound, it was full of insane winners, long rallies, and missed opportunities. 32 points, and 17-15 to Kiri.
Jacked up on adrenaline, she came flying out of the gate in the third to hold at love and take a couple points off Sam’s serve. Two nights ago, Sam played the longest women’s match in US Open history against Petrova, where she served for the match in the second and blew the tiebreak. She kept calm on serve in the third and found a way to secure the only break of the final set at 5-6 to take the decider.
Not unlike two nights ago, Sam kept her cool. Something has to be said about both her mental strength and her fitness. It was pretty clear that Kiri’s adrenaline and level of play would not hold up all set, and like a vulture swooping in to claim its prey, Sam broke early and cruised to take the match as if the second set had never happened.
Make no doubt about it, Sam is playing incredibly well right now. The errors are there, and always will be when you play the way she does. The important thing is that she’s sticking to her game plan (kick serves, finding a way to the forehand, pushing out wide and staying patient) even when things get tough, but not playing stubborn enough to not make small adjustments (such as her approach to passing shots against Kiri, specifically the third set). Her past two matches have been insanely close, but her opponents have been on their game and they’ve deserved to be.
After a great run in Toronto, and now overcoming two difficult three set matches, Sam’s confidence has to be sky high. Up against Zvonareva in the quarters and then possibly the winner of Pennetta/Kerber, she might just be the favourite to make the final.