In a solitary pursuit such as professional tennis, a moment of crisis can arise at anytime — in the midst of a lucrative career or in the middle of a first-round match.
“I don’t think it’s unusual,” said former U.S. Open and Family Circle Cup champion Sam Stosur, “for many players to kind of question what’s going on and how they’ve been going.”
On a humid Tuesday at the Family Circle Cup, Stosur and rising American star Sloane Stephens confronted doubts of different kinds. Stosur continued to fight her way through a mid-career crisis of sorts, while Stephens was bouyed by a coach’s pep talk during her first main-draw victory in five trips to Daniel Island.
Stosur, who a year ago was pondering an end to a career that’s earned her more than $14 million, seemed to regain her form in a 6-2, 6-4 win over qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva. And Stephens had to dig deep for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over American veteran Bethanie Mattek-Sands on Stadium Court.
Other top players had their own crisis points to manage on Tuesday. Defending champion Andrea Petkovic, 2007 champ Jalena Jankovic and No. 5 seed Angelique Kerber all needed three sets to survive their opening matches.
Meanwhile, Charleston’s own Shelby Rogers, who won her first main-draw match at the Family Circle Cup on Monday, may have gotten a break when 14th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had to retire with an injury from her match. Rogers will face qualifer Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the second round in the second match on Stadium Court on Wednesday.
A year ago, the 31-year-old Stosur had lost to a qualifer in the WTA Portugal Open when she suddenly felt at a career crossroads.
“I was really struggling,” Stosur said Tuesday. “I wasn’t happy with the way I was playing, and I wasn’t necessarily enjoying playing. When you are not getting the results that you necessarily want or believe that you know you are capable of, it gets tiring to be out here all the time.”
After a few weeks of soul-searching, Stosur decided she still had things to accomplish in tennis. Once ranked as high as No. 4 in the world, she certainly looked more like her old self while rolling to victory over Karatantcheva, a qualifier from Bulgaria.
“Sometimes you are out on the court and questioning whether you even want to be there,” she said. “And then you step back and think about it logically. You realize, I do still love what I do and think there’s nothing I would rather be doing.”
The 22-year-old Stephens might have been feeling similar angst after falling behind by 3-6, 0-2 in her match against Mattek-Sands, ranked No. 176 to Stephens’ 45. But coach Nick Saviano delivered a speech worthy of a halftime locker room.
“This is when you have to rise above fatigue, rise above frustration,” said Saviano, kneeling at Stephens’ feet. “You have to push yourself every single point. This is when champions are made.”
Something clicked, and Stephens pushed through to win 12 of the final 15 games of the match, continuing a recent run of good play – she won seven matches at Miami and Indian Wells.
“It forced me to stay focused and just compete on every shot, and make sure I’m having fun out there,” Stephens said of the pep talk. “We work well together, and he really does motivate me and push me to do better. So it helps.”
Jana Cepelova, who captured headlines last year with her upset of No. 1-ranked Serena Williams on Stadium Court, won again at the Family Circle Cup with a three-set victory over Elena Vesnina. No. 10 seed Varvara Lepchenko, a wild-card entrant, was dismissed by Andreea Mitu of Romania, while 12th-seeded Belinda Bencic cruised in straight sets.
No. 9 Samantha Stosur d. Sesil Karatantcheva, 6-2, 6-4
Sara Orribes Tormo d. No. 14 Anastasia Pavyluchenkova, 6-4, 3-0 (ret).
Madison Brengle d. Edina Gallovits-Hall, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2
Lara Arruabarrena d. Cagla Buyukakcay, 6-2, 6-2
Sloane Stephens d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
No. 12 Belina Bencic d. Casey Dellacqua, 6-1, 6-2
Jalena Jankovic d. Tatjana Maria, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1
Andreea Mitu d. No. 10 Varvara Lepchenko, 6-2, 6-1
Jana Cepelova d. Elena Vesnina, 6-2, 7-7, 7-6
Wednesday on Stadium Court
10 a.m. - Shuai Zhang vs. Ekaterina Makarova
Shelby Rogers vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo
Sara Errani vs. Jana Cepelova
Eugenie Bouchard vs. Lauren Davis
Not before 7 p.m. - Kateryna Bondarenko vs. Madison Keys