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STOSUR SURGES AT ROLAND GARROS

By Blair Henley

A surging Sam Stosur took out four-time French Open champion and No. 22 seed Justine Henin 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Monday, snapping the Belgian’s streak of 24 straight matches won at Roland Garros.

“My nerves were simply not strong enough today,” Henin explained. “I felt very nervous, very upset, which is normally not the way I am. Maybe today I was feeling some nervous fatigue. Maybe that nervous fatigue prevented me from seeing things in a calmer way.”

After a slow start, 26-year-old Stosur used her heavy groundstrokes to keep her opponent stuck scrambling behind the baseline, and in the third set, Henin’s picturesque backhand was nowhere to be found. She dumped three into the net in the final game.

Stosur, seeded seventh, squandered her first match point with a nervous double fault, but took advantage of a short, bouncing overhead on her second try.

“I just tried to shake it off and tried to have a laugh at myself, not worry about it and get the next one in,” Stosur said of the double fault.

It was so gloomy at Roland Garros Monday that the 26-year-old Australian was forced to remove her signature sunglasses, allowing fans to see the emotion in her eyes as she sealed one of the biggest wins of her career.

“I knew what I had to do,” Stosur said. “I kept going for it and I believed in myself.”

Stosur had more clay court wins this season than anyone else on tour coming into the French Open and she made it to the semifinals here last year, but her win over Henin still was still unexpected. The Australian lost to her earlier this month in Stuttgart.

The Aussie was known primarily as a doubles specialist before she decided to focus on her singles a couple of years ago. She has previously held the No. 1 ranking in doubles, but she entered the singles Top 10 for the first time just months ago.

Serena Williams easily beat No. 18 seed Shahar Peer of Israel 6-2, 6-2 to become the last American standing in the singles draws. She will take on Stosur in the quarterfinals.

It’s safe to say Peer doesn’t like playing the Williams sisters. She has now lost 5 times each to both Serena and Venus.

Tuesday No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki will take on No. 17 Francesca Schiavone, No. 5 seed Elena Dementieva will play No. 19 Nadia Petrova.

SERENA’S “MINI-RETIREMENTS” HELP HER LONGEVITY

By Blair Henley

It’s been almost three months since Serena Williams last played a tennis match.

Since her victory at the Australian Open, she has visited Kenya to open a secondary school in her name, appeared on the Home Shopping Network to sell her Signature Line and even enrolled in courses to become a nail technician. Her interests outside of tennis have raised eyebrows regarding her dedication to the game, but perhaps her frequent layoffs, injury related or not, are actually what have enabled her reign atop the women’s tour for so long.

It’s easy to root for the grinder who eats, sleeps and breathes tennis. Society says that hard work pays off, and we love seeing proof. When Ana Ivanovic won the French Open in 2008, fans cheered her gritty style of play and analysts seemed to think there were big things in store for the marketable Serb. Her ranking now sits at No. 57 and she has not come close to replicating her Grand Slam success. The same could be said for Nicole Vaidisova, who went from the world top 10 in 2007 to the top 200 in 2010. She recently announced her retirement at the ripe old age of 20. Jelena Dokic is another young and promising baseliner who reached the top 5 in 2002 before slowly sliding out of the spotlight.

These are just a few examples of players who have clawed their way to the top only to have trouble staying there. On the other hand, Serena has proved herself against the best in the world for over ten years and doesn’t seem fazed by the pressure of heightened expectations that has knocked many would-be stars off their short-lived pedestals.

Despite her incredibly successful career, critics are quick to say that she has failed to make the most of her talent and athleticism. They wonder what she could achieve if she completely immersed herself in the game, but I’ve yet to hear anyone laud Serena’s unusual approach as a contributing factor in her unparalleled longevity in tennis’ modern era.

There’s no denying that tennis is a training intensive sport, and any top tour competitor has paid her dues. For some, however, tennis becomes all-consuming – and not in a good way. There is pressure to train constantly and play as many tour events as possible at the expense of a well-rounded existence.

Serena seems to shrug off what people think she should be doing and as a result comes into events with a rested body and a fresh outlook. If all her spare time were spent on the court and at the gym, perhaps her career would have fizzled a long time ago like so many of her peers.

Tennis fans were amazed at Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters’ recent comeback success, but their dominance was simply a result of a renewed perspective. The intermittent breaks from competition that we are used to seeing from Serena are, in a sense, mini retirements. Like Henin and Clijsters, she returns refreshed and hungry after having pursued other passions.

While it may not be in every player’s best interest to step away from the game to develop a new line of merchandise, I do think there is value in Serena’s approach. Taking time to remember that there is more to life than wins and losses on a tennis court could be a good thing.