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Sunday, September 11, 2011
Stosur plays match of her life to win first major

By Viv Bernstein

NEW YORK -- So she's human, after all.

Serena Williams had fooled everyone into thinking otherwise this summer, when she won two tournaments and arrived at the U.S. Open as the overwhelming favorite to capture her 14th Grand Slam singles title. It was to be a story for the ages, how Williams missed a year after surgery on a cut foot and an emergency operation to remove blood clots from her lungs. How she faced her own mortality and how Williams defeated that enemy, too.

There she was Sunday, at center stage in Arthur Ashe Stadium on the way to reestablishing her place atop women's tennis.

It was Williams' day and it was America's day, with this final taking place on the solemn 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attack.

Did anyone -- anyone? -- believe Samantha Stosur could beat all of that?

Maybe only Stosur, who overcame the greatest comeback story in modern tennis history to write her own storybook finish to this U.S. Open. Stosur hammered Williams 6-2, 6-3, the first Australian woman to win a Grand Slam championship since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won Wimbledon in 1980. You have to go back to 1973 to find the last Australian woman to win the U.S. Open: Margaret Court.

"I'm still kind of speechless," Stosur said. "I can't actually believe that I won this tournament."

Stosur didn't merely beat Williams, Stosur dominated her. She broke Williams' serve five of nine times, including twice in the first set and three times in the second. Stosur committed just 12 unforced errors the entire match, compared to Williams' 25.

Williams had not lost a set at the U.S. Open leading up to the final, and yet she couldn't take a set from Stosur on Sunday night. The match was over in just 1 hour, 13 minutes. Williams admitted she was sluggish after beating No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals late Saturday night. She didn't go to sleep until 4:30 a.m.

Stosur put pressure on Williams' first serve early and Williams faltered.

This one wasn't stolen. It was well earned by a player who had her own health drama in 2007 and '08, when she missed 10 months battling Lyme disease.

"I've played matches where I feel like I played lights out, can't miss a ball and, you know, it's fantastic," Stosur said. "But to do it under these circumstances, in this kind of final, against a player like Serena -- for sure, I'm gonna think it's one of the best days of my career, of my life playing."

Of course, Williams beat herself, too. The old Serena, full of bile and fire, came roaring back in this championship. Remember her? It was the Williams who blew a semifinal match with Kim Clijsters here two years ago when a foot fault turned into a tirade and a victory for Clijsters on her way to the 2009 title.

It happened again Sunday, with Serena down a set and Stosur holding a break point in the first game of the second set. Williams had shouted "Come on!" to herself as she belted an apparent winning shot -- one Williams said was her best of the night -- that Stosur reached, but could not return in play. It would have been deuce in that critical first game. But Williams was penalized a point for shouting during play, and that gave the game to Stosur and a 1-0, second-set lead.

Williams went into a tirade, yelling at the umpire and firing up the crowd. It could have rattled Stosur. But it didn't.

"For sure, it was difficult to stay focused, and then obviously the crowd got heavily involved," she said. "You know, it was probably the loudest I ever felt a crowd in my whole entire life. You're right in the middle of it.

"It was definitely a quite overwhelming feeling. But once I hit that next ball in the court and started playing again, I felt settled. I guess it definitely could have been the big pivotal point in the match."

Stosur made sure it wasn't, though Williams' temper tantrum will always color this victory just as it shades Clijsters' title here in 2009. But it shouldn't. Because that would hide the truth of Sunday's match: Stosur controlled this final from the very beginning. Nothing Williams did before, during or after the tirade could change that.

And Williams knew it.

"She played really, really well," Williams said. "I mean, I don't think she's ever played that well. Maybe she has. I haven't seen her play that well. But that's what you have to do."

Though she has been ranked as high as No. 4 in singles, Stosur, 27, has had more success in doubles, with two women's doubles and two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles on her résumé. Sunday's U.S. Open win came in her second career Grand Slam singles final. Stosur had beaten Williams in the French Open quarterfinals in 2010 on the way to her first Grand Slam final, which she lost to Francesca Schiavone.

So the 2011 Grand Slam season ends with four different champions crowned, Clijsters taking the Australian Open, Li Na winning the French, Petra Kvitova capturing Wimbledon and now Stosur winning her first Grand Slam on Sunday. None has established a new pecking order in women's tennis, though. Instead, they demonstrated the absence of a dominant star in the sport.

Even with Williams back.