For me, Sunday's ladies' final was more about Samantha Stosur who played the best match of her life, and less about Serena Williams who didn't conduct herself in the best of manners.
Stosur played a flawless match. Her movement was impeccable, she employed the glorious tactic of slicing Serena on the backhand to draw her to the net and pass her - and said backhand did not break down. Her winners from both wings were innumerable, and she remained mentally stubborn from start to finish.
I defy the entire tennis world to deny that they put their money (or at at least their mouth) on Stosur being dominated by her 13 time Slam winner opponent; but she felt something we all couldn't - she knew could win. Even after all the commotion, save a momentary lull to lose a break, she kept her head - she was not about to let anything get in the way of her first Slam. When you look back at her tournament, she seems to have had one of those performances poised for such a moment. She's responded well to adversity - unintentionally undermined by the USTA and their scheduling difficulties on more than one occasion; not to mention the injustice of reaching the final without once having played on Ashe. She's broken US Open records including the longest women's tie-break with 32 points and the longest US Open women's match in the tie-break era which lasted for 3 hours 16 minutes. She's won tough, easy, come from a set down, a set up; and yesterday she found herself the underdog with no pressure and nothing to lose.
For Serena - an American playing her home Slam final on the melancholic 10th year anniversary of 9/11 - there was all the pressure. Fatigue may have played a part in her final performance - she didn't arrive back at the hotel till 2.30 am after the men's semi-finals ran late - in fact for the first set her legs looked uncharacteristically heavy. With her first serve percentage finding itself in the 30s in the first set, she was in definite need of a lift, but especially considering 2009, no one would have guessed she'd find that lift in the way that she did at the start of the second. A loud "come on" on a heavy forehand before Stosur had a chance to get her racquet on her ball saw umpire Eva Asderaki invoke the hindrance rule. Serena was livid to say the least. Despite being in the rule book, arguments could be made on Serena's behalf- should the umpire have used discretion to replay the point, choosing to deem Serena's actions as 'unintentional'? It's hard to believe it would have been intentional. However no argument can be made in favour of her consequent offensive behaviour towards the Asderaki, who cannot be blamed for Serena's poor play. That being said (and it's certainly not an excuse but,) it was an extremely high pressure moment - it's not easy with all that expectation to feel the trophy slipping from your grasp partly due to you failing to bring out your best.
The anger seemed to bring the American back to life and it looked as if we finally had a match on our hands. But Samantha. The way she didn't let it phase her. Even after Serena took that long pause, which saw some 22,500 members of the Arthur Ashe stadium let out a sustained roar, to gather herself, Stosur kept her composure and the level of her game beautifully. She isn't the most emotional or extroverted character on the tour and you got the feeling that this sort of event could have left her wanting to run away; but the exact opposite was true. In her mind there was no way anything but exceptional play from Williams was going to get in the way of her maiden Slam. And when she got the break she played with audacity and broke to close it out. This was a prime example of will to win taking over - Stosur had had a fantastic hard court season, but prior to that, her results certainly did not reflect her 9 in the world ranking. Not only that, but it should be pointed out that this US Open trophy is in fact her third title ever. Ergo it certainly can't be said that experience in finals led her to the win; and while confidence did play a huge part, as did ability - it was more of a case of the Australian just bringing out her best, not failing to make the most of the opportunity at hand.
It was gutsy but measured, calm but aggressive - finally Stosur played the sort of game that she, a few months back, didn't dream, but the rest of us knew, she was capable of.
Congratulations to the deserving 2011 US Open champion.