Australia’s Sam Stosur kept her incredible first-set Grand Slam winning run intact with a 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 opening round victory over Kai-Chen Chang at the Australian Open.
It was the 53rd consecutive time Stosur won a Grand Slam match after taking the first set.
Much was made of Stosur's poor start to the Australian summer before this first round match – an ankle operation to remove bone spurs interrupting the world No.9’s preparation. And the talk grew louder after first-round losses in Brisbane and Sydney earlier this month.
The critics were circling, but Stosur tried to keep away from the details.
"I didn't read any papers or watch any news," she said on Monday.
“Everyone is entitled to think what they think. But of course I have got a group of people around me I trust all year round, not just during the summer of the Australian Open.
“Maybe some people had valid points, but at the end of the day, I'm always going to go back to who I know and who I trust the most.”
And it was this team which Stosur turned to as she prepared her for today’s match against Chang. The flat-hitting right-hander from Chinese Taipei celebrated her 22nd birthday yesterday, but the Aussie was never going to give her a belated birthday present.
The last time they played, it was Chang who walked away with the win. Despite the rankings difference, victory today was by no means assured. Stosur did not play at her best today but, like all good players, she found a way to win when not in champagne form.
“I feel very happy, a little bit relieved, and, yeah, just nice to get through that first round finally. You know, from here hopefully I can loosen up a little bit and keep playing better and better,” Stosur said.
In a tense opening set in which there was eight breaks of serve, Stosur held her nerve in the tiebreak to claim the first set and give herself the mental boost she needed.
“I think having gone through that first set after being down a break quite a few times and then getting through it, it was good,” Stosur said.
Stosur, though, didn't always look like a winner: she looked tense early as her opponent took advantage of the Queenslander's nerves.
But it wasn't just big-stage jitters that were troubling Stosur – the lingering effects of a cold, a misfiring first serve and Chang's forehand were also causing her some problems. Hard, flat and deep, the Chang forehand became a weapon to rival the renowned Stosur forehand.
“I wasn't happy with my (first serve) percentage, as such. The last few days in practice I have been serving very well, so it was a little bit disappointing that it didn't continue down that road today,” Stosur said.
“She's hit some unbelievable shots where, you know, it skimmed this far over the net and hits the corners and then missed.”
What saved the Australian, though, were unforced errors from Chang and a soft second serve that Stosur dispatched with ease on several occasions.
Stosur came out for the second set looking more confident. With a spring in her step, she broke Chang in the first game.
The ninth seed's forehand became the difference between the two as Stosur heaped pressure on Chang who duly wilted as the Rod Laver Arena crowd got behind their woman.
Chang became her own worst enemy as she would often follow up a great shot with a loose one to let Stosur off the hook.
“I did know going into the match, and I thought if I get a hit on the ball I have obviously got to play aggressive and my style and be moving forward. But if not, try and hang in there, because she tended to hit three, maybe four good ones and (the next was) either going to be a winner or (an) error,” Stosur said.
A second break in the second set gave Stosur a strong end to a match that she was, to put it bluntly, happy to be done with. She will next play either Yuxuan Zhang or Stosur's Sydney conqueror, Jie Zheng.
And if it’s Zheng, Stosur will be ready.
“We have had some pretty close matches in the past, and last week is certainly going to be a good one to look back on and maybe watch again and see what I did, you know, well and what I didn't do well. I think at the end of the day it's going to be my game, and I've got to focus on that.”