Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Sloane Surprise

Serena Williams is the best female tennis player on the planet of that there is no doubt, and her toughest match this year was against 19 year old American Sloane Stephens on the way to her Brisbane title.  It was in straight sets but it tested the great one who had praise for the rising star.

A few weeks on and the two were opponents once more but in a much more important circumstance - a Grand Slam tournament quarter final.  Serena had progressed here as expected by blasting four would be rivals off the court, be it the one in Hisense Arena or Rod Laver Arena, where today's clash had been scheduled.

Sloane, the 29th seed had knocked off Laura Robson in the fourth round who in turn had eliminated the Open's eighth seed Petra Kvitova.  While this would be an experience to remember for Stephens, there was no reason for Serena to make it one to cherish because this was a day for the Williams sister, and Sloane could have her turn down the track.

Set one was not vintage Serena and the rally exchanges were able to be entered into fairly freely by Sloane Stephens right from the word GO!
For a debut quarter final at this level, the cool performance throughout the first half dozen games or so impressed everyone, and must have been of concern to Serena who in the eighth game gained some respite with the first break points of the match.

The third of these successfully converted giving Serena a 5-3 lead and the option to serve for the set, which she took up without consultation.  The opening set to Williams 6-3 and so far pretty much to script in the scorebook but a closer contest on the court of play.

Set 2 and the biggest drama of the Aus Open was about to unfold.  Serena Williams broke Sloane Stephens to lead by a set and a break, but the match was turned on its head when Serena suffered a back injury.  It appeared to restrict her, but even without that discomfort, the younger American was actually beginning to dominate off her forehand and tactically winning by taking the net position whenever she could to shorten and finalise points.

Games were tied at 2-2 once Stephens had worked her way on top in many of the rallies and the 29th seed took a 5-3 advantage after the back problems of Serena entered the equation.  Serena took a medical time out off the court after she had somehow manufactured a break back in the ninth game, due in part to the inexperience of Stephens.

Upon her return games were quickly 5-5 and the unanswered question surrounded Serena's ability to survive a third set should the match need to go that far.
Sloane steadied and in general play was on equal terms with Serena - occasionally the shot of a champion would be fired but infrequently enough to not cause too much heartache for the emerging star.

At 5-6, Serena served and clearly was conscious of her predicament, delivering some painfully slow first and second serves which lit up the Stephens eyes.  In a poor standard game Serena sank to the lower of two lows and gave up the serve and with it the second set 7-5.  One set all, and Sloane Stephens also would be serving first in the decider.

Serena fought out the final set determined to overcome the injury disadvantage, and as the games rolled by she appeared to be able to play with more freedom and conviction.  What she lacked was the self confidence and trust in her ability to play the shots of which she is so capable as evidenced time and again this tournament.

Sloane Stephens could have been playing her twenty first quarter final and not her first, such was her poise in this most delicate of moments.  Games were on serve until the seventh, although Serena had to fight a long battle to level at 2-2.  At 3-3 with Stephens serving, Serena created her chances.

Three of these chances went begging as Sloane thrilled the crowd with her courage and brilliance under heavy fire.  Finally on the fourth she relented and at 4-3 with a serve to come surely the Serena moment had just happened.

Surely not because Serena was not the impregnable one today and Stephens had more than a fair share to do with that.  The break back was immediate and defiant, and for Serena it was the final kick in the guts.  The great one could not muster enough to break again and became easy fodder for Sloane in the twelfth game when she broke once more to defeat the best player on earth 3-6 7-5 6-4

A semi final against the reigning champion is the next day's challenge, and don't be surprised to find it just as challenging for Azarenka.

Aus Open 2013 confirms a new star, but the legend that is Serena Williams remains intact.


  1. I watched Sloane Stephens play Serena Williams at the Australian Open, sitting not three seats from you, Tony, and I can't believe we have watched the same match! How could you say Serena Williams' legend 'remains in tact' when she lost, and when her diva antics were disgraceful from such a supposed professional. I think your viewpoint is biased and omits important information if you do indeed consider that your blog is fair. Serena's acting when she missed a point - like such a 'queen of tennis should never miss a shot - was appalling...looking towards the coach's chair, talking to the ground, putting her hands in the air, and carrying on like she could not understand how on earth such a champion as herself could possibly MISS it... then going off in what seemed like an underhand tactic for 'medical reasons' when after one game back on the court, she was hitting as hard as ever, but again, there'd been antics with that as well as she made out she was in pain...and then trying to put Stephens off with her poor etiquette of smashing her racquet out of shape and throwing it to the ground in anger...Jehovah would not have been pleased with this behaviour, nor was the crowd. And there was no apology from the queen to the other player...poor form, ery poor, please don't omit important information if you are the spokesperson for a game...two people played tonight. One intimdated the other and failed so I hope Sloane is basking in the glory. It was refreshing to see such good manners from such a young player and to hear her humble speech. I hope this review is published and not refused. Linda

    1. Thank you Linda for your comment. It is great to hear the passion and I respect your opinion although I don't fully agree with it. My intention wasn't to deliberately hide anything with respect to Serena and I apologise if it appears otherwise.
      What we do agree on is what a great job Sloane Stephens did in such a pressure situation.
      Cheers Tony

  2. Great, Tony, yes, like you, I do have passion for the game. I'm not sure what you don't agree with, you don't qualify that, however, role models in sports and all arts and culture are sorely needed in this world; it is a 'me' world with social media providing a vehicle for everyone to put themselves out for that fifteen seconds of fame, even if no one wants to hear or see them...the position of our sports stars, and others in the spotlight, is one that has the power to influence positively by example to the youth in our society. All credit to those who play bad tempered players and come through - it's a great test of their mind skills to overcome the less than decent behaviour by top players. Have a great day, Tony. Linda