"Stosur Serves It OUT" was the brutal headline that appeared on the Australian Open website shortly after the 9th seed was sent packing by the amazingly speedy Zheng Jie. Stosur and Zheng played their second round for 2 hours and 42 minutes, but for the Australian number 1, it must have felt like a lifetime. As always, it was fun to watch Zheng zip around the court and retrieve balls that looked like they were headed somewhere beyond the stadium. And, as usual, it was painful to watch Stosur crack under the pressure of playing in her own country. Australia is to Stosur what Paris was to Amelie Mauresmo (who used to arrive at her most dreaded event to find a giant cutout of her image on display), and one wonders if that will ever change.
The match was somewhat of a mess, with both players making nerve-motivated mistakes over and over. Zheng's flubbed volleys were especially painful since she is also a doubles expert. (And by the way, ESPN: Zheng Jie won the Australian Open doubles title seven years ago, she won the Wimbledon doubles title in 2006, also; she has an Olympic bronze medal in doubles, and two gold medals in doubles in the Asian Games. But among the ESPN commentators, it was "Stosur...doubles...this," "Stosur...doubles...that," "Stosur...great doubles record," with no mention at all of Zheng's accomplishments.) Between them, the players made 99 unforced errors (Stosur made 56 of those), Stosur had a second serve win percentage of only 29, and she double-faulted nine times (more about that later).
I should add that there were also plenty of breathtaking rallies in this match.
When the Australian went up two breaks for 5-2 in the third set (with one break occurring when Zheng had gotten to 40-0), I thought maybe she could actually pull off the win (that's right--maybe). But despite serving for the match twice, Stosur never held a match point. While motoring around the court, Zheng undoubtedly peeked once or twice and saw the despair on Stosur's face.
In the final game, the Chinese player gave it everything she had, cracking a forehand that set up match point. When Stosur proceeded to fault on her first serve, I thought "Oh, no, is she going to--" and before I could finish my thought, Stosur indeed double-faulted. And, as negative as this may sound, that actually seemed like the "proper" conclusion to a match in which Stosur had one of her bigger meltdowns. (To make things worse, Stosur had only just lost to Zheng in the first round in Sydney. Ouch.)
Zheng, who was a semifinalist in Melbourne in 2010, advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 victory.
Though I am sick of hearing sports commentators go on and on about "work ethic," I do believe that Zheng is someone for whom the term has real meaning. When she lost in the 2010 Australian Open semifinals, it was her poor serve that did her in. She left Melbourne and immediately hired a serving coach. Zheng's serve is nothing special (except when it is--ask Stosur), but it is no longer the extremely weak element it used to be. Sadly, other players appear not to have followed her example.
In the next round, Zheng will face Julia Goerges.