As she approaches her 28th birthday, many of us have been curious to see what Sam Stosur can do for an encore to her 2011 US Open title. Is Stosur now officially ready for prime time, or will she shrink under the new set of expectations that she will face as the most recent Grand Slam champion?
If today was any indication, Stosur is clearly a changed player. Not that she wasn't pretty incredible before, but the Stosur that was able to grab her first victory in 10 attempts against Maria Sharapova (6-1, 7-5), was so good that she has me thinking that she could win more Slams next year.
Stosur confidently took care of Sharapova, and she did it with more than the big kick serve and thumping forehand that we've all come to know her for. She did it with a very effective defensive game, lots of patience, and lots of poise.
I was surprised to see how good Stosur was with the backhand slice today, and she used it time and time again to neutralize Sharapova. It's a shot that she's always been able to hit, but I don't believe I've seen her hit it with this much consistency or depth before.
Also surprising, was Stosur's footspeed and mobility today. In the past, she's been frenetic back at the baseline, always too anxious to run around her backhand so that she can unload that forehand. But today, Stosur was content to employ -- and execute -- the backhand slice, and it paid off brilliantly. Sharapova was erratic, and Stosur made her more so by depriving her of the pace that she prefers, and most of all by extending points with her legs.
If Stosur is going to play this patient, and be this tactically sound, and use her legs the way she did today, she'll be an even better player next year.
Perhaps the newfound confidence is paying dividends for Stosur. She is playing loose, moving freely, and her game is blossoming as she approaches 28.
If she can continue to play this way, look for her to push Victoria Azarenka today. Stosur has lost all four meetings vs. Vika, and Azarenka is fresh off a title, so it won't be easy. But when you're playing with confidence the way that Stosur is -- she's won 6 of her last 7 matches against top 2 players -- anything is possible.