In the final at the U.S. Open: Expect the unexpected

We started in May 2001, 20 years ago. We have posted well over 1,500 articles.

As coronavirus began to strike the tennis world, Indian Wells cancelled the tournament on March 9. Right after that, the tournaments pulled out quickly, including Miami, Barcelona, Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros. Now, the WTA and the ATP have shut down until June 7. Or even further. No one really knows.

However, if you love tennis, you can reminisce with We are resurfacing many of our best stories, written by Matthew Cronin.

NEW YORK – For whatever reason, despite evidence to the contrary that great champions actually do lose matches, there was  perception coming into the US Open that it was impossible for Serena Williams to go down to defeat.

How Serena has built this aura of invincibility around herself is confounding, because while she is without question the great player of her generation and a top 5 singles player ever, she has lost plenty of times at the majors. Sure, she has also won 13 Grand Slam titles, but just because she had a fine hard court summer  coming into the US Open, winning Stanford and Toronto and beating a slew of good players did not mean that on one day in New York she wouldn’t be a little off and that an experienced, much improved and powerful player such as Samantha Stosur wouldn’t be to hit through her on one evening.

So now it has happened when Stosur played the match of the life and won the US Open with a 6-2, 6-4 thumping of Serena.

The unexpected occurred and perhaps it should have been expected, because this season, the unusual  has become commonplace.

Outside of Kim Clijsters run to the 2011 Aussie Open crows, exactly what could be called expected results at the Slams?

Former clay courter hater Li Na’s run to the Roland Garros title. Don’t think so.

The wet behind the ears, shy and wildly inconsistent Petra Kvitova’s  takedown of Maria Sharapova to win Wimbledon. Don’t see it.

The sometime capable, some times less than confident winning Stosur just her third title of career at America’s Grand Slam over Serena, who all tournament long looked fast, powerful and composed. Not at all.

But maybe the tennis world should be expecting the unexpected, because if there’s one thing we do know is that since Generation Martina Hingis – the Swiss herself, Serena and Venus  Williams, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin —  began to travel  down tennis roads unknown, the tour has fallen into a bit of chaos, similar to the start of the  second set of the Serena vs. Stosur final, when somehow, just two years after she imploded in the US Open semis against Clijsters and was fined and nearly suspended, Serena thought it might be OK after a controversial decision by Chair Umpire Eva Asderaki to tell her that if she saw her in the hallways, she better hightail the other way.

For the first 13 days of the tournament , Serena was on her best behavior, but in the final, she came very close to completely losing her cool to the point where she would have all but guaranteed herself a suspension. Thankfully for the sport, after calling Asderaki a choice name and telling her not to look her way anymore during a changeover, a frazzled Serena calmed down a bit.

Back at the start of the last decade, it was pretty clear that Gen Hingis, along with Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capraiti, were the class of the circuit,  but then they started either falling off the tour altogether or taking off significant stints of time off due to personal reasons or injures.

The swerving current that been running through the tour became rougher and harder to follow.  Venus went into slight decline; Serena went on and off the disabled list; Hingis retired came back again and retired again; Henin did the same, retiring, coming back,  and then quitting it again; and  Clijsters retired for stretch, came back, played occasionally and is now hurt again.  Those 

Those five players have combined for 35 Grand Slam titles in between 1999 and the start of 2011 and were in a sense the foundation of the tour. One of the  primary reasons why Dinara Safina, Jelena Jankovic and Caroline Wozniacki became No. 1s and have yet to win a Slam is because those five were not around consistently enough.

So early this summer, with Clijsters wasting her ankle, Venus out due to injury and an autoimmune disease, and Serena still recovering form an injury and pulmonary embolism, the tour went every which way but rational.

Li, not any promising player with a love of clay courts, won Roland Garros. Kvitova, who had limited experience on the big stage faced down the experienced Sharapova.  

Wozniacki was unable to produce her best results at the majors, and two of her excellent player friends, Victoria Azarenka and Aga Radwanska, sputtered when big opportunities on their plates.

And then after a disappointing but not totally surprising loss to the capable Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon, Serena picked up steam during the US Open Series., beating  a slew of fine player including Sharapova, Sabine Lisicki, Bartoli, Julia Goerges, Azarenka and in the Toronto final, none other than Stosur. In the 11 matches she won prior to New York, she did go to three sets on three occasions, but won those third sets easily.

She was serving huge again, her groundstrokes were spanking clean, she was jumping on returns, and she was performing well in the clutch.

So even though she claimed to have nearly died last February and was still without a lot of match play, , coming, even amongst many tennis aficionados, the  common wisdom was that she was all but invincible and that there were only a handful of players who had even a small chance against her. 

But two times champ Clijsters pulled out, Li and Kvitova flamed early, Venus’ disease forced her to withdraw after just one match, and Flavia Pennetta ran Sharapova into the ground. 

Serena took care of four young and talented players who thought they came into their contests with her with shots:  Azarenka, former No.1 Ana Ivanovic, the streaking Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Wozniacki. 

She walked on court in the final ready to pocket No. 14 and there wasn’t an analysts on site who gave Stosur more than an outside chance. But then the female Atlas shrugged, the Aussie cranked up her serve and forehand and pounded her way past her, not even offering the US legend  a sniff at a comeback.

Serena’s star came back down to earth and a 27-year-old woman who was brought up in a humble neighborhood in Brisbane had shocked the world. 

But really, in the topsy-turvy WTA world, her victory was no surprise at all.