It's fun being a tennis fan. It's even more fun when you have a player, that ONE player in your stable that you absolutely adore. You see them walk out on the court and your smile broadens to face-breaking proportions. Everything they do is hilarious, adorable, awesome, and fantastic. "Look! He's taking a picture with a koala!" "ZOMG, she's riding a jetski! Isn't it the best thing you've ever seen?" "OMG, he just picked his butt! I want to sniff his fingers he's so cute!" Everything they do is viewed through rose-colored glittery lenses and they can do absolutely no wrong.
If one were a hard-core fan of one Samantha Jane Stosur, one would know that these two and a half months of tennis haven't been all that groovy. BUT, as a hard-core fan of the Foreceped Marvel, one would also be inclined not to have hit the panic button. Sure, there have been lots of losses, but they've been quality losses!
Losing to Jarka in Brisbane? Whatever, that was the first tournament of the year. She's just rusty! Losing to Sveta in Sydney? Oh, it's just Sveta. Sveta can have her unbeatable days. Losing to Petra in Melbourne? Tall, flat-hitting left-hander? That's her kryptonite! It was a tough draw and Petra's a total up an comer. Losing to Flavia and Fran at Fed Cup? Pfft. It's Fran and Flavi! They're in her head. She's still a fantastic player. She just needs matches. Losing to JJ in Dubai? JJ's finding her rhythm again and it's not like she's a scrub! All in all, aside from her losses to Jarka and Petra, she played a bunch of tight three setters that really could have gone either way. That's just tennis, right? And everyone knows Sam plays like crap in Australia.
That said, one would also know that Ms. Stosur came into Indian Wells on the cusp. Either she was going to come out of it solidly reasserting herself as a player who has earned the right to be expected to win matches into the later rounds, or she would suffer yet another early round loss and slip the other way into Question Mark Town. You know that town. That's where all the high ranked players who always seem to get picked as the player to crash out early of a tournament live. It's not Irrelevance City, but it ain't Top Dogsville, either.
Losing to Dinara, who serve aside (16 DFs!!!) played remarkably well, isn't necessarily a bad loss. Dinara was crushing the ball for winners and displaying that aggressive game that seemed to have escaped her. But in this case it wasn't the result that was the problem. It was the performance. And no one, not even the biggest Samantha Stosur fan in North America (I dare you to challenge me) could walk away from that match with any credibility without acknowledging one painful, sobering fact: Sam played like absolutely crap and there are absolutely no excuses for it.
Losing 50-50 rallies or having someone impose their game on you so that you are absolutely useless is one thing. I saw that earlier today when Flavia played Kleybs. Kleybs was crushing the ball for winners and Flavia could do nothing about it. But when Dinara is serving 70 mph second serves to your forehand and you're dumping them into the net repeatedly, or when you have a neutral ball and just flat out sail it long over and over and over and over and over again, that's not because you're getting outplayed. That's because you're playing horribly and for whatever reason, can't get yourself into it.
Now, the hardcore fan in me desperately wants to think this was a one-off match. "Oh, she just didn't have it today. Happens to everyone." Trust me, a huge part of me, namely my heart, wants to hit Ctrl-A, Delete on this whole post. But I can't escape the one thing that has been nagging me throughout my travels around Australia and now the US watching Sam play tennis.
She's not serving well. She's not hitting aces, she's not getting the flat serve over and in, and she's not doing enough on her kicker to force a short ball that she can hit for a winner. At her best, Sam's service games are a series of regular 1-2 punches. That's not happening in 2011. She's finding herself stuck in rallies that, if she's able to control, she can't seem to terminate. It is absolutely infuriating to watch and it's what drove me early in the second set to start audibly whining.
It wasn't my proudest moment.
So there it is. I think Sam's in a slump and I think she'll stay in that slump until she rights her serve. It's the cornerstone of her game. She has to be able to hold easily and right now, that's not happening. Who knows. Maybe she'll figure it out in Miami or in Charleston when her feet hit the clay. What I do know is that the rosy glitter glasses have been yanked from my face and I now believe that her ineffective serve is the reason she's been losing lately. Not the matchups.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see a bartender about a bottle of whiskey. That's the only way I'm sleeping tonight.
(Pics: Forty Deuce)