Stosur Loses a Titanic Game to Jankovic

BNP Paribas Open.

If my theory was correct, Jelena Jankovic was running on borrowed time after skipping through her part of the Indian Wells draw without having to face Kim Clijsters, Flavia Pennetta, or Svetlana Kuznetsova. Today she faced Samantha Stosur in the semifinals and I thought Sam’s power and ability to rush JJ from the net would be too much.

It certainly didn’t look like it at the beginning. JJ got a break point in the very first game and she was the one pushing Sam into errors. Then came the fourth game of the set and that’s really our subject today – the never ending titanic tennis game that counts the same as all the other games but usually means so much more.

Sam was serving at 2-2 and what started out as a love game with a 40-0 lead segued into one such titanic struggle.

Sam was trying to slice JJ up – on one point she hit six or seven straight slices, so much for overpowering JJ – and it was effective at those times when it wasn’t skittering beyond the baseline. But it was too little pressure to produce errors. I lost track after Sam’s fourth game point and the seventh deuce but one last slice skittered long on break point and Sam had lost the battle.

I could just as well end coverage of the match at this point because Sam mostly mailed it in from here. I’ll spare you the details but give you the score: a 6-2, 6-4 victory for JJ.

Was Sam tired from a semifinal run? Was there a letdown after reaching a lifelong goal – in Sam’s case she reached the top ten for the first time this week? None of the above. It was frustration and anger. As she said after the match:

I think when I lost that service game from 40-love up, then all the frustration and anger built up and I let that carry on too long.

How long? When I asked her if she was tired she said:

No, I actually felt really good…I think as soon as you get a bit frustrated or agitated about yourself that that’s the first thing that drops off.

That first thing is footwork and it explains Sam whiffing on a JJ serve at the end of the first set and it also explains the return she mishit on match point. Her footwork went away and didn’t come back. Well, her emotions took her mind away so there was little left to monitor such things as footwork.

This is interesting because I was thinking of writing a piece about those power struggles that pass for titanic tennis games. It’s the kind of struggle missing in no ad tennis and the reason I hope they never make singles no ad. It’s the tennis version of a marathoner dragging a tired body across the finish line (the opponent in this case is the long road). Or a knock down drag out boxing match where the players can barely scrape themselves off their stools for the next round.

The only other place you find something like this in tennis is in fifth sets at slams which don’t have tiebreakers. You could be looking at an 18-16 score. But I’d argue that an 18-16 score is different because once that last game is over it’s over.

With the titanic tennis game, the match is not over, you just feel like it’s over. Sam was so angry she couldn’t recover. That’s what titanic tennis games do. They tell you if the strategy you’ve chosen for your opponent is going to work. They tell you if your opponent is a better fighter on this day. They tell you far too much about yourself and much of what they tell you, you may not want to hear.

I was a bit surprised that a top player would let that game affect her so much but now I see why. I also think Sam Stosur was being more honest than most players in that same situation and that could be a good thing or a bad thing.