It seems strange to classify a defending champion as an underdog.
Still, the term feels like an accurate fit for defending U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur. Her memorable run to capture the 2011 U.S. Open women's singles title might as well have occurred in another lifetime. Stosur has dropped off the map in 2012 for the most part, while Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and No. 1-ranked Victoria Azarenka have taken turns churning out dominating victories.
Her performances at the other Grand Slam tournaments in 2012 have something to do with it. Stosur made a first-round exit at the Australian Open and lost in the second round at Wimbledon. She did reach the French Open semifinals, but fell apart when she committed 21 unforced errors in the third set against eventual runner-up Sara Errani.
Fading back in the shadows has come at a cost. Stosur's successful run in 2011 is being dismissed by critics as a one-time fluke. Williams, Azarenka and Sharapova are headlining the favorites challenging for a 2012 U.S. Open singles title. Stosur's name is hardly mentioned at all. British sports books have listed her odds of repeating as champion at 28-1. To put it in perspective, those are the same listed odds for Venus Williams winning -- and Williams is just 1-2 in Grand Slam matches in 2012.
Only a deep run through the 2012 U.S. Open will silence her critics and prove Stosur remains a threat to win the U.S. Open. She started off on the right foot on Monday, beating Croatia's Petra Martic 6-1, 6-1. The seventh-seeded Australian needed only 51 minutes to dispatch the 64th-ranked Martic. Stosur looked impressive in all facets of the game during the match. She produced 22 winners and 10 aces and never faced a break point in either set.
Stosur needs to rediscover the form that carried her to that 6-2, 6-3 final match victory over Serena Williams a year ago. It isn't a guarantee it will happen. Williams is on a hot streak since winning Wimbledon singles and doubles titles and sweeping a pair of Olympic gold medals in the same venue a few weeks later. Stosur will have her work cut out for her just to stay in contention this time around.
Beating the odds again is what it might take for Stosur to prove her 2011 U.S. Open triumph is not an isolated moment of glory.
John Coon has covered tennis at all levels as a sports reporter based in Salt Lake City. Coon was raised in a tennis loving family. All three of his sisters played competitively and Coon himself enjoys playing at a recreational level.
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- Serena Williams
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