Samantha Stosur is remaining upbeat about her Australian Open hopes despite her sorry run continuing with a roller-coaster first-round exit from the Sydney International.
Stosur's 6-3, 6-7 (7-9), 6-4 defeat at the hands of China's world number 42 Jie Zheng was her fifth consecutive loss in Australia, a miserable run that stretches back to last summer.
She rebounded from match point down to take the match to three sets, but despite a brave effort she could not produce her top form with enough consistency to clinch the match.
The world number nine will head to Melbourne for the Open starting next Monday alarmingly underdone after playing just two matches since having minor ankle surgery six weeks ago.
With little history of performing well at a tennis major without a strong build-up, Stosur's Open prospects look grim.
But the 2011 US Open champion insists she will take a considerably more positive mindset into the season-opening major than last year when she crashed to a first-round loss to Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
Stosur refused to blame her surgery as any kind of excuse for Monday night's loss and said she actually felt like she'd made significant strides since last week's rusty straight sets defeat in Brisbane to Swede Sofia Arvidsson.
"It's bad because it's another loss, but to be honest I feel a lot better after this loss than last week's loss because I felt like I did some better things," Stosur said.
"It's not like I was playing a bad opponent either - either week.
"I feel like I at least got out of a point in the match where I felt I could have been playing better and actually got through that and at least got myself into a winning position.
"I think another week I'll be playing better again. You never know what can happen with one win.
"We'll just try and take it one match at a time and hopefully I can get through that first one and then from there we'll see."
Stosur made a bright enough start against Jie, establishing two break points in the first game, but the alarm bells were ringing again when Zheng jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set.
The Gold Coast-native got on the scoreboard to hold her own serve, but the 29-year-old Zheng was playing confidently and she sealed the opening set in 43 minutes.
Stosur showed fight to win five straight points from 0-40 to hold serve for 3-2 in the second set, and then raced through the next two games - including a break - for a 5-2 lead.
Stosur was starting to come into her own, hitting for the corners and putting Zheng on the defensive, but she could not quite make the final breakthrough.
Zheng survived a string of break points to hold in the eighth game, caught her opponent on the hop to get the break back and then held to level at 5-5.
The set eventually went to a tie-break, with a number of mini-breaks of serve.
Zheng had a match point on Stosur's serve at 6-7, but the Australian forced an error from her opponent to hold on.
Another error off Zheng's racket then brought up set point, before her passing shot on the run went long to give Stosur the set in 72 minutes.
Stosur looked confident in the final set, and she broke early to take a 3-1 lead.
Zheng looked down and out, but she dug in and forced a break before levelling at 3-3.
She held for 4-3 and then played solid on Stosur's serve, drawing errors from the Australian's racket before hitting an almost unplayable cross-court return to get the break for 5-3.
Serving for the match, Zheng went down three break points, and although she saved one, Stosur converted the second to take it back to 4-5.
The Australian could not take her chance, however, making a series of errors to go down 0-40.
Stosur rifled a forehand winner to save one match point, but a backhand into the net finally ended the match after two and a half hours.
AAP / ABCTags: sport, tennis, sydney-2000, nsw, australia First posted January 07, 2013 21:28:44