NEW YORK -- There is no tennis etiquette for it, naturally, because (1) it virtually never happens and (2) tennis singles players don't have teammates, but when defending champion Samantha Stosur began her title defense against Petra Martic of Croatia with service winner-ace-service winner-ace, then broke, then held without Martic getting a ball into play, an improbable countdown began: Stosur had won the first 12 points of the match and was halfway to a golden set.
Winning the first 24 points of a set is a freakish tennis oddity yet seemed only right because 2012 has been the year of perfection. There have already been three perfect games in baseball this season -- Philip Humber of the White Sox, Matt Cain of the Giants and Felix Hernandez of the Mariners have all gone 27 up, 27 out -- and at Wimbledon, Yaroslava Shvedova reintroduced the term to the tennis world, dropping a golden set on French Open finalist Sara Errani.
While Martic couldn't keep a return in play and her forehand mechanics -- she seems to pull off of the ball and leave her feet before contacting the ball -- were something to morbidly behold, Stosur continued with a break and a 40-love lead, leaving herself five points away from perfection. Two weeks ago in the second set of her three-set loss to Petra Kvitova in the final at Montreal, Li Na won the first 16 points of the set. Maybe perfection is the new normal.
The first rule of Fight Club is to never talk about Fight Club. The same is true of a no-hitter or perfect game. Nobody is supposed to mention the elephant in the room, but the closest dugout was across the street at Citi Field. With Stosur serving 40-love, five points from being golden, esteemed tennis writer Peter Bodo (who incidentally wrote a preview column to this tournament that was hilarious to me but wouldn't be to Maria Sharapova), leaned over to me and said:
"I guarantee you she won't get the golden set because now she knows she's close to getting it." I smiled and said, "Yeah, a double fault or something awful."
On cue, after winning the first 19 points of the set, Stosur double faulted. The drama was over and Stosur went on to win the match 6-1, 6-1, banging out 10 aces.
"Yeah, I knew at ... 40-love that I hadn't missed a point and the match had been going pretty quick and obviously in my favor," Stosur said. "It did pop into my head for a split second. Then I hit the double fault and it was erased and I was quickly on with the next point."
Not soon after, as James Blake was pounding away at Lukas Lacko of Slovakia to a two-set lead over on Armstrong, my phone rang. It was my friend, tennis junkie and Alexandr Dolgopolov enthusiast Deirdre Mullane, calling from Brooklyn Heights to report that the rain over her house was torrential and was coming shortly to greet Flushing Meadows. It did. Play stopped, ball kids scrambled and that, as they say, was that.
For 10 minutes, though, the 2012 U.S. Open nearly began with the magic of a golden set. When Stosur's second serve crashed long, the crowd clapped politely for Martic dodging ignominy, but Bodo said of her, "Geez, she couldn't even win the point she won."