OH DEAR. Oh, really. Just, oh. Sam Stosur's latest Australian Open has ended early, disastrously and distressingly for another year, the ninth seed losing the last five games and her second-round match, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 to China's Zheng Jie. Did she choke? There could be no denying it, and she didn't. ''I don't know. Whatever word you want to put on it, at 5-2 up in the third, double-break, probably is a bit of a choke, yeah.''
Stosur twice served for the match after leading 5-2 in the third set, but tightened up horribly when the finish line was within stumbling distance. Not for the first time, but this was awful to watch, and the double-fault to end - her ninth, among 56 unforced errors to 29 winners - was truly hands-over-the-eyes ghastly.
And so, after a torturous two hours, 42 minutes, another summer ends for Stosur, in shockingly disappointing fashion, with one scrappy win from her four matches in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The same tally as last year, but with a similar, perhaps even more discouraging, lament.
Australian Open, Day 3
Action from the Australian Open Tennis during day 3 at Melbourne Park. Photo: Joe Armao
''You make an error and you tighten up a little bit, but you try and reset and refocus before that next point,'' she said of her third-set disintegration. ''Unfortunately, it just kept happening, point after point after point. Then crazy things start popping into your head, and before you know it, you're back on even terms and really lost a lead that with two breaks in the third should never go away. Oh, I think it's a hundred per cent [mental]. I got tight and then you start missing some balls. You probably think a little bit too much. You do it over and over and over again, and then, yeah, you start not wanting to miss rather than wanting to make the winner. Instead, it's, 'I don't want to make the error'.''
History suggested the match was decided early, for Stosur has won all 54 of the grand slam singles matches in which she has won the first set, but only six of the previous 37 in which she has fallen behind. This time she trailled, then levelled, then led, handsomely. But, for the second consecutive week, was unable to finish off her persistent Chinese opponent after leading 3-1 in the decider.
The Queenslander had conjured an unconvincing straight-sets win over Kai-Chen Chang in the opening round, but met a higher-calibre opponent in Zheng, the world No. 40 and two-time grand slam semi-finalist. It was thought that the Chang win, just that, might be enough to help restore Stosur's shaky confidence. Instead, it will be Zheng who plays German 18th seed Julia Goerges in the third round.
Sam Stosur during her second-round match. Photo: Joe Armao
''Today I feel Sam Stosur is play much better [than] last week,'' said Zheng. ''Kick serve and the big forehand. Also backhand slice is give me the big trouble. But today I try to play more aggressive. I try to go to the net, give her some pressure. I think this is my coaches tell me, give her some [of] the pressure, and this way is the key [to] win this match.''
Stosur has reached a French Open final and two semis, and won the US Open just 16 months ago, beating the great Serena Williams in New York. But the 28-year-old now has two fourth-round appearances to show from her 11 Australian Opens, and it seems there will be no dislodging the hefty rhinoceros from her muscular shoulders any time soon.
''It's difficult,'' she admitted. ''It's just hard no matter where you're playing. You obviously want to play your best. I know I haven't been playing my best. I've been trying to get to that point. Now, unfortunately, the summer is over as quickly as what it started again.
''I'll do what I always do and keep playing and keep trying hard. I know I'm going to get over it. It's just you want it now, not tomorrow.''
So no happy ending. Just a terrible emptiness. And another chance gone.
Oh. Just oh.