Sam Stosur talking about her French Open semi final loss to Sara Errani, "You're always going to be a bit nervous going into a semi - it's the semifinal of a Slam, of course you're going to be nervous." Stosur overcame those nerves to play brilliant tennis and defeat Serena Williams at the 2011 US Open. Today, however, it was her opponent than managed the nerves better.
Peter Bodo at tennis.com gives an interesting take on the match between Stosur and Errani (French Open Errani d. Stosur). His opinion is that Errani won with her mind. Despite it being an up and down affair, in the end Errani held strong as she broke Stosur and then won four straight points to serve out the match. Errani held her nerve despite losing a break in the third set.
Bodo also wondered how Stosur could play so mentally tough at the US Open to defeat Serena, but then "choke" as he called it (he said it not me) again at the French. First, my reaction is that Stosur is less confident on clay and it takes her out of her comfort zone. Djokovic deals with a similar issue. He is not as confident with his movement on clay and so when push comes to shove Djoko is not as amazingly confident on the dirt as he is on other surfaces. This does not mean that Stosur and Djokovic cannot win a slam on clay, it just means that it is more difficult for them.
Another point is one I made previously on the Tennis Mental Edge blog (Does a Mentally Tough Player Suffer from Nerves?). Mental toughness is not a permanent trait. It can come and go. A mentally tough player will still deal with nerves, some days better than others. The greatest such as Steffi Graff, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert were able to be mentally tough more often than not. However, no one is perfect, and no one owns mental toughness. You always have to work at it. Errani did not try to hide her nerves, but seemed to feel she managed them better than Stosur.
"I was very nervous but at the same time I was really focused on the game. Maybe she had more pressure."
The flip side of this point is that there is always hope. Players not considered to be mentally tough can develop it. The mental game can be won even if you have failed in the same spot in the past. Sara Errani has developed a belief over the past two weeks (and this season) that she can defeat top 10 players. On a surface that suited her more than Stosur, and being on top of her game, she had to go into this match believing she could win.
What will be very interesting at the Final is if Errani continues to believe in herself and can see herself as a French Open champion. Can she envision herself holding the trophy after defeating Sharapova? Time will tell, because like I said each situation challenges your mental toughness and belief. I hope Errani comes to the Final trusting her game as she has all year and continues her remarkable run.