Sam Stosur entered today’s quarter-final at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo with a 1-10 losing record against her opponent, Maria Sharapova. There was even a figurative asterisk next to that lone victory, as it came towards the end of last year when Sharapova was suffering from an ankle injury. However, this time there was no doubt about Stosur’s superb 6-4 7-6 (10) win over the Russian.
The Russian has not been playing particularly well this week in Tokyo. She took over three hours to edge past Britain’s Heather Watson in the first round, and laboured to a tough win against Lucie Safarova in the last 16. Stosur also had a tricky opening match, sneaking through 7-5 in the third set against Francesca Schiavone, but looked much more impressive yesterday, dispatching Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets.
The first set of the quarter-final featured three breaks of serve, with two of them going the way of Stosur. Sharapova’s serve was functioning much better than it had been earlier in the week, but although she had an impressive first serve percentage of 77%, the Australian took advantage of both break point opportunities to win only her sixth set against the two-time Tokyo champion, 6-4.
Sharapova’s serve began to falter in the second set, as she hit four double faults and was broken twice. Leading 5-3 and serving for the match, Stosur looked set for a place in the semi-finals, but she stumbled badly, losing nine points in a row as Sharapova battled back to 6-all. Suddenly, there were shades of the pair’s most recent meeting, a marathon clash in Stuttgart in which Sharapova saved match points to emerge the winner.
In the tie-break, Sharapova took a 5-3 lead, and looked to have seized the momentum. But the Aussie regained her composure, and soon held her first match point. Sharapova saved that one, and then three more, both players making a series of unforced errors as the score oscillated between set points and match points. Finally, leading 11-10, Stosur summoned the courage to deliver a big serve, and watched with relief as Sharapova’s return went long.
Next up for the Australian is a meeting with another Russian, Nadia Petrova, who beat Sara Errani in three sets. Should Stosur prevail in that match, she will significantly boost her chances of qualifying for the year-end championships in Istanbul, which features the top eight players of the year.