Once again, at the French Open, the boot that is Italy has kicked Sam Stosur in the outback.
In 2010, it was fighting Francesca Schiavone who stunned (a word I don't use much) Stosur in the final; today, it was Sara Errani, who just wouldn't go away, and who read Stosur's anxiety like a book of cautionary tales she might have been given in school in Bologna. Stosur didn't let Errani overtake her the way she had let Schiavone, but the Australian star just couldn't stop making unforced errors; she made a total of 48, in fact. Stosur also hit 46 winners, and that sounds like a decent--if not great--ratio, but her opponent was steady and careful, and retrieved tirelessly.
Each player hit to the opponent's backhand as much as possible, and each showed strength with her forehand. The first set was closely contested, with Errani coming through for a 7-5 win. In the second set, though, the Italian player was barely able to get a foot in, with Stosur making the most of a deadly second serve. Stosur won that set 6-1, and--according to the usual WTA storyline--Errani was supposed to fade away, while Stosur dominated in the third set.
But it didn't happen like that. Instead, Errani quickly went up 3-0 in the final set. The set went to 4-all, but then Errani--in a show of strength that will probably haunt Stosur for a while--won 12 of the last 15 points, took the set 6-3, and advanced to the final of the French Open.
But there's more. Errani, with partner Roberta Vinci, is also in the doubles final. And, with her win over Stosur, she has also entered the WTA's top 10. Wow. Errani has already won three clay tournaments this season--in Acapulco, Barcelona and Budapest, making her the biggest winner on red clay in 2012. But even before her clay streak began, Errani showed the world how tough she is when she reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Errani's opponent in the final will be Maria Sharapova, or The Maria, as I'm sure Petra Kvitova (who has told us all about "The Serena" and "The Pink") would call her. The Maria was on her game today, and Kvitova--once again--was way off hers. The Wimbledon champion, in fact, sometimes looked as though she didn't even realize she was in a major semifinal. She was uncertain, sluggish and lacking in both style and aggression. And so we continue to ask: "What's wrong with Petra?"
Sharapova's victory marks a huge turning point for her. She is now number 1 in the world, a position she hasn't occupied in a while. She is in her third final in four consecutive majors, after many said she could no longer be competitive at the top level. After a misdiagnosis, major shoulder surgery and the re-do of rehab, Sharapova had all kinds of problems with her serve and with her confidence. She made it to the 2011 Wimbledon final, but was beaten by Kvitova. She made it to the 2012 Australian Open final, and was beaten by Victoria Azarenka. Now she enters the final of the major that many said she could never win, even before she had her shoulder injury.
Sara Errani did some heavy lifting to get to the last round. Here are the finalists' paths to the championship round:
round 1--def. Casey Dellacqua
round 2--def. Melanie Oudin
round 3--def. Ana Ivanovic (2008 French Open champion)
round of 16--def. Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009 French Open champion)
quarterfinals--def. Angelique Kerber (10th seed)
semifinals--def. Samantha Stosur (2010 French Open finalist)
round 1--def. Alexandra Cadantu
round 2--def. Ayumi Morita
round 3--def. Peng Shuai
round of 16--def. Klara Zakopalova
quarterfinals--def. Kaia Kanepi
semifinals--def. Petra Kvitova (world number 4)