Sam Stosur clung doggedly and often brilliantly to the US Open crown she won in such stunning fashion over Serena Williams here last year but, after 2 hours, 23 minutes of top-class tennis, it was clawed from her grasp by the current world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (5).
When Stosur put away a smash to reach 5-5 in the deciding tiebreak, she still thought she was going to hold on to the only Grand Slam title she has ever won. But it was not to be. The Australian had done well to fight back from 0-4 in the breaker, courtesy of a terrible Azarenka double fault and great forehand winner up the line but there was nothing she could do about a moment of inspiration from Vika as she conjured up a drop shot to reach match point.
"At 5-all I made the drop shot, no?" she said, trying to recall the moment. "I was lucky that ball caught the net. I really didn’t feel like what the score was. When I had that short ball I had to do something to surprise, because at this moment you have to come up with something different. Because one or two shots will decide everything. Even one move can decide everything. So I had the drop shot. I showed some good hands, I guess."
If the drop shot was a surprise, the return Azarenka fired straight back at Stosur on match point was less so but Sam could still do little about it because, like so many before, it landed smack on the line. Trying to deal with it, Stosur went down almost on one knee in a desperate attempt to play a half volley but the ball flew off her racket into the sidelines and her title went with it.
Stosur was disappointed, but not crushed. "There’s always going to be disappointment when you lose in the quarters of the US Open," she admitted. "But I have to say I’m really pleased with the way I played. I thought it was a really, really good match and there was, what, a point or two in?"
The large crowd rose to both players at the end and rightly so. This had been the best quality women’s match of the tournament so far and it could hardly have been closer.
Stosur felt vindicated because she had not been playing well in the weeks preceding the event and yet had put up a worthy defense of her crown.
"I have been able to turn my form around quickly and played great in all of my matches," she said. "And I love playing out there. The atmosphere and the crowd make it fantastic to play on Ashe. It’s a dream to play on the center courts of Grand Slams."
Azarenka, who was introduced to Pippa Middleton after she came off court, was obviously ecstatic to have survived such a tough encounter. "You know, being in the semifinals of the US Open for the first time is incredible feeling for me. I am really looking forward to the tough matches I still have in the tournament. I really want it bad."
She will have to wait a while to discover against whom her next tough match will be. Marion Bartoli had shot away to a 4-0 lead in the first set against a lackluster Maria Sharapova before the rains arrived and, at 6 p.m. ET, the day session was officially cancelled.
So Bartoli and Sharapova will return on Wednesday as will No. 4 seed David Ferrer and the 13th seeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet who were playing on Louis Armstrong. Gasquet had served for the second set but lost it in the tiebreak and, when it stopped, Ferrer was leading 7-5, 7-6, 4-3.