CARLSBAD, CA, USA - After falling early in Stanford last week, Sam Stosur took a wildcard into the Southern California Open in Carlsbad this week, hoping to get some more matches in and get her groove back - not only did she go all the way to the title, she beat Victoria Azarenka for the first time.
"I had planned just to go to Stanford, then take a week off and head back to my training base in Florida," Stosur said this past Monday. "I was going to practice for a week before heading to Toronto and Cincinnati. But after not doing as well as I wanted to in Stanford, I thought coming here would be another good opportunity to play those matches and try and build on something this week. Being so close it was a good idea to come here and play, and obviously I'm very lucky to get that wildcard."
But little by little the No.5-seeded Stosur began showing the form that took her to the US Open title two years ago, serving big and smacking forehands past four opponents and into the final - including a 75 26 63 surprise against No.2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon.
Stosur's odds against No.1 seed Victoria Azarenka going into the final weren't great - she had lost all eight of the pair's previous meetings - but in recent years she had overturned some very lopsided head-to-heads against other huge-hitters, such as Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams, and with some steely nerves on the big points she was able to do it again this time, beating the Belarusian, 62 63.
While neither player had phenomenal winners-to-unforced errors differentials, Stosur's play on those big points was far superior - she went 4/5 on break points, while Azarenka was just 1/12 on them.
"That's something I have to be very happy with, to be able to step up to the line under that pressure and hit the serve where I want to, how I want to, time and time again," Stosur said. "I know what it feels like not to be able to break serve when you have opportunities, and it gets pretty frustrating.
"That was a huge part of that match, and carrying that from the first set to the second set as well."
In the end Stosur got her fourth WTA title, her first three coming at the International-level event in Osaka in 2009, the Premier-level stop in Charleston in 2010 and, of course, the US Open in 2011.
"This is obviously a huge boost for me," Stosur said. "I haven't had great results all year really, so to be able to bounce back, especially from last week's first round loss, and play better and better each day, it's really exciting and a good boost going into the last Grand Slam tournament of the year.
"It has been a long time since I've held a winner's trophy. To do it here, I'm very, very happy."
Azarenka was gracious in defeat, and acknowledged the stats on the big points were key to victory.
"I think the statistics really said I didn't take my chances - but on the other hand, she was serving really well today," Azarenka said. "I just felt like I was fighting and trying to do the same thing that wasn't working today. I kept doing the same idea, and that wasn't very smart for me to do out there.
"I have to give her credit though. She played a great match today - there's no doubt about that."
Azarenka was playing her first tournament since withdrawing mid-tournament at Wimbledon due to a knee injury. By virtue of reaching the final, the World No.3 will return to the No.2 ranking Monday.