MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Samantha Stosur felt great before things started to spin out of control.
She was playing before her home crowd at the Australian Open and she was winning _ by a lot. The anxiety that had risen so often on center court seemed at bay.
Up 5-2 in the third set, Stosur was two points _ just two points _ from reaching the third round.
“It was close to being a great day,” Stosur said, trying to analyze what went wrong. “And now, it’s not such a great day.”
Her tenacious opponent, the 40th-ranked Zheng Jie of China, won the next five games and won 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. The match ended with one last double-fault from Stosur _ she had nine in total and 56 unforced errors.
“Obviously it’s a hard one to take when you get yourself into a winning position and you lose five games straight,” she said. “It just kept happening, point after point after point.”
Asked how much of her problem was mental, she replied, “A hundred percent.”
Stosur reached the French Open final in 2010. She beat Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open in 2011, becoming the first Australian woman to earn a singles major title in more than 30 years.
But coming home brings on the jitters. In 13 appearances at the Australian Open she has never made it past the fourth round. In 2011 and 2012, she exited abruptly in the first round.
Just before heading to Melbourne this month, the ninth-ranked Stosur lost in her first matches of warm-up tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney.
There have been surprising letdowns elsewhere. At last year’s French Open, the sixth-seeded Stosur reached the semifinals and was headed toward victory against Sara Errani of Italy, then seeded 21, but lost in three sets.
Stosur started working with a sports psychologist in 2010 to help her deal with the pressure of playing in Australia and overcoming what she has called “those battles in your own head during matches.”
The 28-year-old elaborated on the internal battle at her post-match news conference on Wednesday.
“At 5-2, I felt great,” she said. “Then all of a sudden it obviously went away quite quickly.”
“Crazy things start popping into your head,” she said. “You make an error and you tighten up a little bit, but you try to reset and refocus before that next point.”