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Stosur makes hard work of cheeky Chang

Liam Quinn


Liam Quinn

Written on Monday, 14 January 2013 18:45

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As the first set of Sam Stosur's opening match with Taiwan's Kai-Chen Chang approached the hour mark, the tension among the Rod Laver Arena crowd today was palpable. After all, many of those in attendance presumed Stosur's opening foray into the Australian Open for 2013 would be little more than a walk in the park, although perhaps a slightly longish walk.

However, for all of the Queenslander's skill, she has the unfortunate knack of making what should be easy seem painstakingly difficult. That was the case against the 86th-ranked Chang, a player that should have served as little more than a speed bump on Stosur's road to the second round and beyond. Yet, time and time again, Chang appeared equal to the Aussie, and in the early stages even seemed to be grasping the upper hand.

Even after the Australian ninth-seed claimed the opening set, and began to pull away in the second, it was impossible to shake the feeling that she was a step behind her top-ranked contemporaries.

The contrast between Stosur's triumph - 7-6, 6-3 - and the tour de force exhibition by No.2 seed Maria Sharapova on the same court earlier in the day was damning. The Russian was clearly a class above her opponent - fellow Russian Olga Puchkova - displaying total dominance, and seemingly failing to break a sweat whilst demolishing her compatriot, 6-0, 6-0. It was a performance that Stosur would have surely loved to replicate, yet she was unable to do so.

Addressing her adoring public following her triumph, Stosur spoke of the relief felt in being able to get off the mark and progress to the next round. And, perhaps there in lies the problem for our hometown hope; given the expectations harboured by much of the Australian public, such a performance falls well short. And, while much of the pre-tournament narrative to Stosur's title tilt centered on her recent struggles, it is becoming more and more apparent that unrealistic expectations are the issue.

In the press conference following her win, the immediate question posed to Stosur was whether this is the most pressure ever faced in the first round Grand Slam event. That was the precursor to a raft of other questions centered around the weighty hopes of a nation, and their subsequent impact on the 28-year-old.

She deftly batted away the queries, although she did remark on the ability to "loosen up" as the match progressed.

However, the most telling insight came from Stosur when she described the match as a continuing progression towards her best tennis, and that she still had plenty of room to improve.

Stosur's skill, battling style and incredible work ethic will mean that she will be in with a chance at challenging the elite talents that sit atop tennis' totem pole, and regaining the sort of form that famously saw her topple Serena Williams in a US Open final.

Aussie Watch

Other than the aforementioned Stosur, no fewer than eight other Australian's were strutting their stuff across Melbourne Park today.

Sixteen-year-old Ashleigh Barty flirted with what would have been the story of the day, taking the first set from fifteenth-ranked Dominika Cibulkova, 6-3, before the Slovakian took control to win the last two sets.

It was a similar situation for Matthew Ebden, who snatched the first two sets from 23rd seed Mikhail Youzhny, before the 30-year-old Russian rebounded with the last three.

Those who took to the court in the early stages of the day struggled, with Bojana Bobusic and Sacha Jones being bounced out in straight sets.

Casey Dellacqua was beaten 6-4, 7-6 by American Madison Keys while John Millman, who lost the first two sets against Japan's Tatsuma Ito, stormed back to win the next two, and take the match to a fifth. Which, alas, he lost, 7-5. That meant the Australian resord at that stage of the day was an unflattering 1-7, Stosur being the only success.

Of course, the final Aussie to take the court on Day One was Lleyton Hewitt, who took to Rod Laver Arena to begin the night session against eight-seed Janko Tipsarevic. Things didnt go according to plan for the Aussie Battler, with Tipsarevic taking care of business in straight sets. Maybe it's time for the veteran to hang up his racquet...

Hewitt enjoyed greart success during something of a transitional era for the men's game, but if his first round bundling is anything to go by, the game has well and truly passed him by. As tempting as it must be for Hewitt to try and come around and again for one more tilt at the Australian Open, it would be surprising if he were still on the scene come 2014.

Truly International Stars

Deep behind the proverbial curtain in the bowels of Rod Laver Arena, a litany of stars trotted into the Press Room at a regular interval in order to answer the questions posed by nosey journalists from the world over. That, in itself, is nothing to write home about.

However, the manner in which the athletes from non-English speaking backgrounds were able to bounce between their native dialect and the Queen's English was remarkable. In an age where some of our homegrown football stars appear to struggle with grasping the English language – if their personal Twitter accounts are to be taken as a guide – the ability for these worldwide athletes to eloquently answer questions in another tongue was astounding.

Short-term Stopover

You have to feel a little for Olga Puchkova; the 107th ranked Russian who had her tournament come to an abrupt end at the hands of her compatriot Maria Sharapova. The 25-year-old probably spent more time clearing customs than she did on Centre Court this morning, lasting just 55 minutes. However, Puchkova seemed determined to ensure her brief appearance wasn't going to be missed, taking to the court in a bright, highlighter orange outfit that would've made Sir Elton blush even in his most flamboyant stages.

Fanatics - friend or foe?

Well, you either love this gang of watermelon-hatted warblers, or you find them as funny as an unlanced boil. Today, the Fanatics were in full voice at Matthew Ebden's match, and wherever else an Australian was playing, giving their characteristic vocal support. But if they want to be as entertaining, and innovative, as (say) the Barmy Army, they simply need to get a bigger repertoire of songs - three or four tunes simply doesn't cut it - and perhaps become a bit cleverer. To sing after every winner: ''That's the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it'' and occasionally throw into the mix: ''I am, you are, we are Australian'' is fine early on day one, but after about three hours, that became like the aural equivalent of fingernails down a chalkboard. Still, perhaps they're practising a whole new raft of melodies for Bernard Tomic's opener tomorrow. We can only hope.

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