I fell asleep halfway through Rafa's match and when I woke up, Serena was serving at 5-6 in the tiebreak on ESPN. I had to watch a few games to make sure that I wasn't watching live tennis and that I dreamed the whole thing.
Sitting through this match today, stressing, frazzling, willing, really, I realized how big of a Sam fan I had become. And not just a "Yay! I hope you do well! I'm always rooting for you!" kind of way, but in a "Holy crap. I actually believe you can win matches. I actually believe you can beat Serena even when all signs point to steamroll."
After Sam served for the match at 5-3 in the second and, well, choked, the clouds of inevitability began to creep in. And boy did they creep in fast. Serena began to swing out easier and more importantly, she began serving well. Dodging that bullet seemed to loosen up her shoulders and she would bomb aces with regularity for the rest of the match. Sam could barely score a point on most of Serena's service points from there.
Which of course meant all the pressure would be on Sam to hold, and as she was serving from behind starting in the third set, the pressure was huge. After swapping breaks early in the third the players settled down but it was clear that Serena had the edge. She was holding easily and Sam's service games ranged from easy to being down match point at 4-5. And every time, Sam seemed to reach back and boom a serve. It was uncanny.
But we had all seen this script before. It's happened to all our faves. Serena plays like crap, then flicks a switch, plays lights out, and walks away a winner. But I've also seen Serena play like crap, flick a switch, play lights, and then act like a petulant child when things don't easily go her way. Despite my Twitter jokes about Sam's propensity to blink in big moments, I really never thought she was out of this, though I finally had to start ignoring Twitter a bit to avoid all the negativity. Sam had showed me a lot in the Henin match when she righted the ship after playing 3 crap games against Justine in the third and almost handing her the match. Six months ago, Sam would have gift-wrapped Justine the match and apologize for being such an inconvenience. I didn't think Sam was going to pull that match out. That was my mistake. I wasn't going to make the same mistake twice.
I still don't know how Sam got that break. Serena definitely tightened up a bit but she didn't hand the break to Sam the way Justine did. Sam still had to step up and earn them, which she did. The last two points of that 6-6 were amazing. Sam would make good with her redemptive second chance, serving it out at 15. And thus Serena fails, once again, to make it past the quarters of RG.
Afterwards, Serena was, well predictable:
Last year I choked. You know, I guess it's a redundant story with me.
She did give more credit to Sam than I would have expected. Which...is saying more about my low expectations than Serena's graciousness.
As for Sam, this is about as "ecstatic" a presser as you'll ever get from her. Believe me, I've read a lot of them.
You should frame this one.