Samantha Stosur in action at Roland Garros.
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Sloane Stephens serves to Sam Stosur.
© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
PARIS -- US Open champion Sam Stosur has competed against plenty of youngsters before, but this season, no one under the age of 21 has given her as stiff a challenge as 19-year-old American Sloane Stephens did in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
The quick 19-year-old served for the first set and came back from a 1-5 deficit in the second set before the Australian stopped her, 7-5, 6-4.
Stosur, who reached the Roland Garros final in 2010, had to call upon all her vast experience to stop the youngster, who matched her heavy forehand with flat forehand blasts of her own. Perhaps next year when Stephens comes to Paris, she will play with a little more margin than she did in the final game of the match. After she broke Stosur to 5-4, she immediately went for winners, three of which fell just past the sideline.
But that's the kind of play that led her to her first round of 16 at the major and one that makes her a big threat in the future.
"I think she's got a very bright future ahead of her," Stosur said. "I think at the point of maybe 5-3, 5-all, 5-4, 5-all, that inexperience probably showed through a little bit and, then again, for me to be able to run away with a string of games, I think that being young and maybe not handling it as well as you might down the track. But she's got an excellent forehand and serves pretty big and moves very well. I think as she matures and gets a little bit older that's all going to really come together."
While Stephens wasn’t thrilled that she lost, she was still all smiles after the defeat. She has pushed her ranking to around No. 60 and reveled in the experience. It was too bad that on Sunday she and Stosur got pushed out of one of the main stadiums to Court 1 due to the other matches running long because then the Parisian public could have seen how much she loves to compete.
Stephens was grinning so widely it was as if she had just returned from a wild week of spring break with a close group of friends.
"Oh, so much fun," she said. "I have had such a good time. And even though every day I have been saying, 'Man, I can't wait to get home to eat my grandpa's curry crab,' I don't want to leave. So it's kind of bittersweet that I'm going home, but I had so much fun.
"I have been playing really well. I have more confidence now, and I'm kinda like coming into my own. I feel a lot better on the court, and the whole game is pretty much just believing in yourself. People play well with confidence, and when you're having fun and you're doing the right things, everything's all good."
Since her somewhat surprising run to the 2011 US Open title, Stosur hasn't exactly ripped up the circuit. She did reach the final of Osaka and the semis of the year-end WTA Championships last fall, but admittedly had a poor summer at home, when she went 1-3 and lost in the first round of the Australian Open.
But even though she hasn't won a title this year, she has stepped up her game a little since then, reaching the final of Doha, the semis of Charleston and the quarters of Madrid. She is a workman-like player who doesn’t immediately regain her confidence. For the 27-year-old Stosur, it has always come bit by bit.
"Obviously, January was quite difficult for me, and for sure I was probably a lot more uptight than what I am right now," she said. "Just struggled handling the occasion and what I thought I was going to be capable of. It didn't happen, so then it's always disappointing when you're walking off the court and it doesn't go the way that you wanted it to or at least put in a good showing. But now I feel like that hasn't happened for a long time, and I'm a lot more comfortable."
While Stosur's experience in winning the US Open did not help her deal with her inner demons at home, it has in Paris. Last September in New York, she pulled off two amazing three-set victories over Nadia Petrova and Maria Kirilenko in the third and fourth rounds, bested former US Open finalist Vera Zvonareva in the quarters, stung the streaking German Angelique Kerber in the semis (who, by the way, has also reached the Roland Garros quarters) and then shocked 13-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the final.
Much of that title run had to do with keeping a sound mind and making sure that her days ran smoothly.
"I think in New York I managed my time very well," she said. "I had a couple of those really tough matches third and fourth round and then had an extra day's rest with the rain and didn't even go to the site. I think that's one thing I learned from the year before. I think it's just staying in that moment and playing each moment for what it is. I handled those occasions very well in New York and had a really good attitude, and nothing really bothered me. So try and do it again."
With Cibulkova's upset of No. 1 Victoria Azarenka on Sunday and Italian Sara Errani taking out 2009 French champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, the top half of the draw appears ripe for another Stosur charge, as she has the most experience of anyone there.
But while she may have more know-how than the rest, she is aware that former Roland Garros semifinalist Cibulkova -- whom she plays next -- can rip the ball on the surface and move very well, that Kerber is coming into her own as a top-10 player and that Errani loves to play on the dirt.
Stosur certainly has a shot at putting her tough straight-sets defeat to Francesca Schiavone in the 2010 final behind her, but the Aussie, who has only won three career titles, knows better than anyone that imagining great runs is much easier than actually putting one together.
"I definitely would love that to be the case, but I'm still only in the quarters," she said. "Now quarters is a great spot to be, but it's two matches before you're even in the final. So I've got to worry about this next one, and then hopefully go from there. For sure, I think it's an opportunity. It's an opportunity for a lot of players. You know, that's good."