Sometimes you just know. It's a championship tennis match full of suspense, offering strong hints of an upset, but there's a point in which everyone in the stadium -- including both players -- understands a basic truth. It happened to Mardy Fish and Samantha Stosur over the weekend, and they should feel no shame.
Fish had a marvelous week in Montreal, grinding all the way to the final against Novak Djokovic. "It's important against a player like Mardy to hold your composure," Djokovic said before the match. "I know he's going to come to the net. I know he's going to take his chances. He's always played like that."
With the type of swashbuckling, all-court style that has made him not only the top American men's player but also the most watchable, Fish won the second set against a man trying to nail down the greatest single-season record in history. We had a match now, and they were on serve at 2-2 in the third.
Right then -- a telling stage, little room for error -- is when the mental game becomes such a critical factor. It probably crossed Fish's mind that this would be a titanic upset, making news around the world. He may have recalled being blown off the court by Djokovic, 6-3, 6-1, on another hard court (Miami) this year. Perhaps he considered neither of these things -- but he was definitely a different player as he served for that fifth game. He badly missed a forehand volley, then sailed consecutive forehands well long for 0-40. At break point, Djokovic tossed up an exceptional defensive backhand lob -- and Fish drilled an overhead into the net.
Broken at love. Match over. There were several games to play, but Fish had let this one get away, and he knew it.
As the Stosur-Serena Williams final unfolded in Toronto (and wasn't it odd to watch this Canadian event contested in two cities?), there was talk about Stosur's second serve, perhaps the best in the business. That certainly looked to be the case as the two fought to a 4-4 deadlock in the first set.
Now, though, the pressure would be on Stosur. She seemed to have the ninth game well in hand at 40-15, but as she struck a second serve on the ensuing point, Serena lashed a vicious forehand return, a cross-court winner that was stunning in its force and commitment. This was a champion stepping up her game -- a dynamic foreign to Stosur and most everyone else on tour. Before you knew it, Serena was coming in behind a down-the-line forehand to strike a volley winner that clinched the break.
Was there any doubt about the outcome right then? Serena opened the second set with another break, and it was a veritable coast to the finish line. Just for good measure, she punctuated her last service game with four aces. No. 31 in the world rankings and No. 1 for real.
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