The pressure of coming into the Australian Open as a Grand Slam winner proved too much for Sam Stosur. The reigning US Open champion crashed out in the first round, beaten 7-6 (2), 6-3 by Sorana Cirstea in front of her home crowd at Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday. Her bid to end a 34-year drought for Australian women at the Australian Open was in tatters on just the second day of the tournament.
As Stosur spoke to the media afterward, her eyes appeared red and slightly swollen.
“I’m probably very close to crying, having a really awful night,” Stosur said. “It’s hard to suppress those emotions when it means so much to you.” The sixth-seeded Stosur has never gotten past the fourth round at the Australian Open. In 10 trips to Melbourne Park, Stosur has lost in the first round three times — the last time in 2005.
The defeat wasn’t entirely surprising. She also lost early at two tuneup tournaments, and after going out in the first round at the Sydney International, she admitted she was struggling to cope with the pressure.
“The whole emotional side of things really took over,” the 27-year-old Stosur said. “It never felt like I was able to be loose and free with the way I wanted to play.”
Stosur has been working with a psychologist from the Australian Institute of Sport since last April to try to overcome the stress she sometimes feels on the court. It helped her rediscover her form after falling flat in the 2010 French Open final against Francesca Schiavone.
Andy Murray was also in danger of following Stosur after he lost the first set to Ryan Harrison, before he rallied to win their three hour, 12 minute encounter 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
The 24-year-old Murray also caused some concerns for his large fan base on Hisense Arena when he clutched at his right hamstring in the second set, while he also seemed to jar his right ankle in the final set before he sealed victory.
Novak Djokovic’s victory in Melbourne last year sparked a remarkable 12 months in which he won three grand slam titles and compiled a 70-6 record. The Serb began his title defence in style at the year’s first grand slam tournament with an emphatic 6-2, 6-0, 6-0 victory over Italian journeyman Paolo Lorenzi.
Local fans, however, did have something to cheer about when Lleyton Hewitt rattled off six successive games and come back from a 5-1 fourth set deficit to beat Germany’s Cedrik-Marcel Stebe and advance to the second round.
Hewitt, a former world number one who now appears to approach matches as a man who has hired the court for four hours and is going to get his money’s worth, blew a two-set lead and failed to capitalise on Stebe requiring virtually constant treatment on his left calf muscle before he clinched victory. He will now face 15th-seed Andy Roddick, who beat Dutchman Robin Haase 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.