It certainly feels like a lifetime has passed since I wrote this.
It’s been a long couple of years for Sorana Cirstea. Things seemed very much on the up in 2009. She made the Roland Garros quarters and Los Angeles semis, as well as the third round in Wimbledon and the US Open. The transition from junior to serious pro seemed complete at the ripe age of 19.
Despite her positive outlook, it’s been a tough couple of years. Sorana has lost much of the “complete player” look she once had, and in a very similar fashion to Ivanovic, has looked more like a player with a big forehand and sporadic confidence.
Tennis is a funny sport though, and so often it’s in the head. At the end of the year last year, Sorana yanked out a $50k ITF title in France after saving a match point all the way in her first round. A solid showing in Auckland against Pennetta despite the first round loss, and then a quarterfinal loss in Hobart to Kerber after blowing two match points.
Expectations for Melbourne? Please. I’ll paraphrase, but at the beginning of her match versus Stosur, I texted my friend saying that I was about to watch Sorana be destroyed in front of a packed house.
Then things started happening. Impressive things. Powerful things. Dominating things. First, the footwork. It’s always been a bit clunky. Last year she made a push to become more fit, and looked almost unhealthily skinny. It was sad to see. However, there seems to be a good balance and it showed in her movement.
The forehand has always been big and been a strength. However, to my eye, much of the loopiness that made it wild was gone. This looked mainly in her wrist preparation which is much more consistent. However, the footwork allowed her to get to balls with plenty of time and make the entire motion consistently over the course of the match.
The serve was impressive as well. 65% is a very, very good sign for her. The fact that she was serving, on average, 10km/h faster than Stosur on first serves at 165km/h doesn’t hurt either.
Mostly importantly, however, was her ability to push Stosur around and take advantage of short balls early in points. Stosur traditionally struggles against some uber-flat hitters and that isn’t by accident. Sorana ate up Stosur’s slices which normally neutralize opponents. She was ready for them too, and wasn’t afraid to bend her knees and let it rip. The forehand down the line (including an amazing running passing shot late in the second set) was particularly impressive.
Lastly, the net. First off, I would like to note that many people noted Cirstea’s success at the net (14/16) and drew comparisons to Kirilenko’s net rushing versus Stosur in New York. This is both true and false. The true part is that both were very effective at the net, and playing the net was often a wise decision. The difference from the Kirilenko match, however, is that it was very much on the forefront of Kirilenko’s mind, particularly while serving. Many of Cirstea’s points at the net were a result of getting on top in baseline rallies and having the guts to finish them off. This largely comes about by the nature of Sam’s short slices, as well as a few Stosur drop shots. Just because a player has a decent amount of net approaches and is largely successful does not necessarily mean that they were net rushing, and in fact, can be quite the opposite.
Overall, you have to feel terrible for Stosur. Full credit needs to be given to Cirstea who may have played the match of her life last night and came in for a fight. But it is also fair to say that Stosur did not play her best tennis and really did not start to show shades of the US Open champion that she is until 1-1 in the second set. However, Stosur is a notoriously slow starter of the season and tends not to find a ton of success in Australia. This is far from a crushing blow to her confidence and potential success this season.
Next up for Sorana Banana is Urszula Radwanska and the chance to make a grand slam third round for the first time since 2009.
(Side note: for those curious of the Twitter hashtag I throw around in good fun, #SoranaCirsteaprayercircleofone. Clearly, I’m a fan of Sorana. I made a trip up to Montreal in 2010 to see the ladies play, and Sorana had made it to the final round of qualifying, up against fellow Romanian Monica Niculescu. Following nothing but the live scores with great intent. Clearly I was the only one caring let alone freaking out and tweeting about it, so I used the hashtag #soranacirsteaprayercircleofone, making a joke on the sometimes used #[player name here]prayercircle joke sometimes used for fans who have a player locked in a tight match. And so the hashtag lives. Oh, and she lost, by the way. Go figure.