Yaroslava Shvedova said today that after the second set, she put on a different pair of shoes and was better able to handle the slippery Court Suzanne Lenglen. These days, whenever I think about tennis shoes, I can't help but recall the U.S. Open saga of Melanie Oudin--and I so I wonder: Did Serena Williams fail to go to the locker room and slip on her Believe shoes after the second round?
Bundled out of the French Open in the quarterfinals over and over is likely to have (at least) an unconscious effect on a player, even a champion who has almost magically gotten herself out of trouble in big matches so many times that her mental toughness is legendary. I don't mean to take any credit away from Sam Stosur, whose own mental toughness arrived quite dramatically today when she needed it most. But is it possible that we witnessed not only Stosur's steely will to win, but also Williams' creeping doubt?
Williams won the French Open in 2002, defeating her sister Venus in the final. In 2003, she lost to Justine Henin in the semifinals. For the past several years that she played, however, she has gone out in the quarterfinals to Jennifer Capriati (twice), Henin (twice), and Svetlana Kuznetsova. It is widely agreed that clay is Williams' most vulnerable surface because it is the surface on which her power can be diffused. Of course, there is much more to Williams' game than power, and perhaps the confidence factor has also been diffused.
Today, after the first set, Williams appeared to have figured out the problem that was Sam Stosur. She won the tiebreak decisively, and in the third set, she held a match point. But it wasn't enough. Stosur came charging back in a big way, fueled by her own belief that she could beat the world number 1. For Williams, the court was indeed slippery, though the sun shone, and not a drop of moisture fell.
In the past, Serena Williams has referred to her losses at majors as her "going crazy," i.e., suddenly making a lot of unforced errors and letting the win slip away. In today's press conference, however, there was no talk of lost sanity; indeed, one has to wonder, was it something else that Williams misplaced?