Obscurity just a swing away at Rogers Cup

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:08 AM ET

TORONTO - Welcome to the Rogers Cup, or what has become the tennis world’s version of Ground Zero.

Saturday’s semifinalists included a perennial wallflower, the sublime but unranked part-timer, Serena Williams, and a couple candidates for a world-class word jumble.

Chances are when folks were buying tickets for this day they weren’t thinking: “Hey, wow! Agnieszka Radwanska! Victoria Azarenka! It just doesn’t get any better, eh?”

But, I’m just guessing.

The day opened with John McEnroe getting the star treatment: They hauled him off the court in a bundle of pain during a legends match after he popped a hamstring. It’s been that kind of week at the Rexall Center. Star power has been battered. Bloodied. Bruised. Beaten.

And, so there was the week’s collateral damage: Samantha Stosur, the professional also-ran at centre court against Radwanska, the toast of Poland when, in 2008 she hit the WTA’s top 10. But it was a stay so fleeting nine out of 10 people surveyed at Bay & Yonge wouldn’t recognize her from their favourite brand of Polish sausage.

This isn’t to say that among the tennis fraternity she isn’t well respected. She is. Nobody wins nine matches in a row at this level, as Radwanska had before running into Stosur Saturday, without a certain competence.

At 22, she has the time and, reportedly the talent, to become a household name. Outside the Radwanska household, that is. A win here would’ve put her back in the top 10 but, of course, that didn’t happen and “it’s no big different,” she said in English that at times is as broken as her game. Fortunately for both, it’s nothing that time and experience can’t fix.

“Being in top 10, it’s of course much better. But I think most important thing to be top 10 at the end of the year.”

But to accomplish that she will have to provide more results like earlier this week when she beat third-seed Vera Zvonareva. More results like winning her fifth career tournament last week in Carlsbad. And, fewer results like the one she turned in against Stosur, losing 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.

Radwanska was broken three times in the first set, rallied to win the second then ran out of gas — two weeks of playing some of the best tennis of her life catching up.

“It’s very hard, you know, playing so many matches in a row, especially good matches on a very high level,” she said.

The greats do it every week, and win. The good do it every week and, like Radwanska, dream of greatness. And it would also be nice if she could reach to back-to-back finals. This weekend, that too again eluded her.

Stosur knows all about illusions. She has been the perennial bridesmaid. This year alone she has been a semi-finalist twice, a finalist twice. But if she wins here Sunday it will be for just the third time in more than a decade of singles play.

There have been 10 finals since 1999. Two wins. In other words, she can play with the big girls but rarely has she beaten a Williams or a Sharapova. So what separates the great from the merely competent?

“It takes winning lots of finals and winning Grand Slams and I haven’t done either of those yet,” Stosur says, laughing through a delightful Aussie lilt. “But you’ve got fantastic champions like those two and others. They win a lot. I have played some really tough opponents in finals, and I haven’t gone out and lost all those matches so I’m not too concerned about my record in finals but I’d definitely like to win another one (Sunday).”

What this week will do for Stosur is push her back into 10th in WTA rankings. Comfy.

She has earnings of more than $7 million US in her career. But some of that is thanks to 23 doubles titles, which might be fine for the bank account but also is a guaranteed ticket to tennis obscurity. Sometimes reputation means as much as money.

“Top 10 definitely means something. I definitely want to get back in,” said Stosur, who once hit as high as No. 4 in world rankings. “I think that for any person playing professional sport the benchmark is the top 10, and then you make it top five, and then obviously from there you never know what’s possible ... I guess every day I’ve got to go out and keep trying. Results like this make anything possible.”

Last night, standing in her path were either perhaps the greatest player of her generation, Serena Williams or Azarenka, who at age 22 has won as many tournaments this year as Stosur has in a lifetime.

“I don’t know,” said Stosur, asked how good she could still be. “I don’t want to put a number (ranking) on it.”

Perhaps that makes sense. Perhaps only greatness would recognize that number. Only greatness knows No. 1.


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