It may not be apparent from first look at Sam’s placid, wholesome face, but this girl’s a survivor. She’s struggled with Lyme disease, with her own fragile confidence, with the risky transition from doubles specialist to singles contender, with the pressures of bearing Australia’s weighty tennis tradition on her shoulders and the psychological strain of feeling she’d missed her one best chance for Major glory to scrappy Francesca Schiavone at the 2010 French Open. And all that was well before she came to New York this year, where she played three three-set matches before the final, including a couple epic battles vs. Petrova and then Kirlenko. Against the latter, she managed to lose the longest tie break on record and still win the match. And all this only to face one of the biggest challenges in the sport: Serena Williams in Arthur Ashe stadium. It was Stosur’s first time in the vertigo-inducing venue all tournament, her semifinal having been relegated to the Grandstand.
We all know the old saw: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And on Sunday Sam Stosur played like every bit of adversity, doubt, and disappointment she’s faced in her career and at this tournament had hardened into solid steel. How else do you explain the 6-2, 6-3 beating she gave Serena Williams in the final? Serena had barely broken a sweat in her previous matches, including a humiliation of World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semis.
Even Stosur couldn’t quite figure it out, afterwards:
Q. Is this a bit surreal, the emphatic nature of it all and how quickly it went and everything else? How do you describe it?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Yeah, I’m still kind of speechless. I can’t actually believe I won this tournament. I guess to go out there and play the way I did is obviously just an unbelievable feeling, and you always, you know, hope and you want to be able to do that, but to actually do it, is unbelievable.
Q. If you can share your thoughts, did you ever feel it was coming a bit more easily than you expected, and how did you handle not succumbing to that?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Oh, for sure if I was gonna win, I didn’t think that I’d be able to do it in 6 2, 63, that’s for sure. After that first set I kind of sat down and I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest, and I thought, Okay, I’m a set up now; I’ve got a chance to win one out of the next two and I’ve got a chance.
Q. When can you remember playing as complete a match and as good a match as you played today?
SAMANTHA STOSUR: Um, I don’t know. It’s obviously hard to compare today to any other match. I’ve played matches where I feel like I played lights out, can’t miss a ball, and, you know, it’s fantastic, but to do it under these circumstances in this kind of final against a player like Serena, for sure I’m gonna think it’s one of the best days of my career, of my life of playing. So I think I’ve played, like I said, matches where I played extremely well, but under these circumstances it’s something different.
Serena agreed with Sam’s assessment of her game, saying she’d never seen Sam play so well.
Q. You have won 13 majors, and in some ways being out there for a final is familiar territory. For her it really isn’t. She’s only been to one. Did you tell yourself at any point in the match, She can’t possibly keep this up?
SERENA WILLIAMS: When you’re playing like that, you know, she played really, really well. I mean, I don’t think she’s ever played that well. Maybe she has. I haven’t seen her play that well. But that’s what you have to do. When you’re in the final of a Grand Slam you have to do that. I thought, Okay, at some point you could level out, because I know sometimes it happens. But I’ve played a couple Grand Slam finals where I never leveled out, so I definitely thought about it.
Serena also did her best to brush off the still-simmering controversy around the “Come on!” hindrance episode and her subsequent argument with the chair umpire after her winner became a game point for Stosur.
Q. What impact, if any, did losing that point have on this match today? What carried over maybe from that moment for you?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Um, I don’t know. I don’t think it had a big impact, because I think at the end she won pretty handily, like 6-3. So maybe it would have been 6-4. I don’t know. But I think, you know, like I said, I give her all the credit because she really played phenomenal and she deserved to be the US Open champion this year.
Like Serena, I say let’s forget about Serena’s tiff with the chair ump and focus on Sam’s accomplishment. It’s hard not to like this big hitting, soft speaking Aussie and there’s no doubt she is a deserving and exciting new Major champion. There’s no doubt Serena will have more chances (“Every time I lose I get better,” she told the press after the final. “So watch out!”) but it’s also fun to see other players take theirs. The stage is set for a fascinating 2012. But let’s let Sam enjoy this one for a while!