But Sam also cannot fall into the trap of purely defending; her attack would be crucial to throwing Petra off at key times. (Set point in the first set at YEC comes to mind.)
She did get the short-end of the stick with her scheduling, that wasn't fair on Sam.
And that is an interesting argument I hadn't thought of before; I always thought Sam would be one of the best at backing up really quickly - but as her intensity and mentality still isn't as consistently world class as Marion's (Osaka) and Victoria's (YEC) that might have gone against her.
I think you've put your finger on the two points Sam needs to work on most. Her improved defense (by golly
) is the crucial improvement that won her the USO, but at times she defends longer than is necessary and allows her opponent to get back into the match. I don't think there's any quick fix for this, it's about learning to read the flow of the match and of individual points better and to pick her moment to attack. She's getting better at this I think, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement.
As for the scheduling, I think this is something Sam needs to learn to deal with better, it's all part of the game. It obviously doesn't always cause her problems, for example she bounced back from a grueling SF in NY to play one of the matches of her life less than a day later. But against Vika in Istanbul and Marion in Osaka it was like she had forgotten how to play, it was painful to watch. TBH I don't know what the real problem is, and why it sometimes gives her so much trouble and sometimes none at all. The obvious theory is that against players whose playing style gives her trouble on the surface they are playing on Sam needs a level of focus that she just can't muster after playing a tough match less than a day earlier. Even though Sam probably expected Serena to play better than she did, I think these days she feels basically comfortable with Serena's playing style so she could play instinctively. Against Vika, or Marion on fast, low-bouncing surfaces, she can't do that and needs to concentrate all the time, and she needs to be fresh to do that. But I also think there could be a physical aspect to the problem as well. Against Vika, it really looked as though her muscles weren't working properly. Her movement looked jerky, her shots looked stiff and mechanical, it looked for all the world like she was physically not capable of playing better than she was. Against Dulko at RG it was exactly the same. I don't want to compare myself with Sam (or even with a halfway decent club player
), but I have days like that, when my game is just not there. The bottom line is that Sam needs to figure out what the problem is and find out a way of either eliminating it or at least minimizing its effects. In the first half of this year all it took was one bad day at the office to knock her out of most tournaments in the early rounds.