The string of upset victories ended for Abigail Spears of San Diego today in the third round of the 2005 Australian Open.
The 12th seed, Patty Schnyder of Switzerland, defeated Spears, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
In her first two matches this week, the unheralded Spears swept past Meghann Shaughnessy of Scottsdale, Ariz. (ranked 40th in the world) and Tatiana Golovin of France (ranked 24th), two highly regarded tour professionals, to create what Spears called "the best moment of my life."
"It was always my dream," Spears said, "to come to Australia and play well in the Open."
Part of the dream faded under assault by Schnyder, ranked 14th in the world. Spears, 24, was up a service break and leading 5-3 in the first set when she faltered under the pressure and allowed her 27-year-old opponent back into the match.
"I just got tight," Spears said, conceding that she had been unable to shake a case of nerves as the match progressed.
Schnyder made the best of a single break point, winning the game on Spears' serve, and pushing the first set into a tiebreaker, which she swept, 7 points to 4.
In the second set, Spears' point-making production fell off drastically, dropping from 42 to 18. Both players hit 22 winners, but Schnyder won 35 of 43 points (81 percent) when she got her first serve into play, and Spears managed to win only 23 of 31 points (74 percent) on the first-serve basis.
The defeat was only a momentary setback, insisted Spears. Her coach, Larry Willens, also of San Diego, said Spears' play in the Australian Open has "completely changed her schedule for the year."
Starting the tournament ranked 96th in the world, Spears' victories now give her the prospect of gaining direct access to the main draws at the French Open and Wimbledon, Willens said. Not having to qualify for those two tournaments will enable Spears to compete more easily for higher rankings and prize money as the year progresses.
"We're talking about whether to go to Tokyo or not," Spears said.
Although scheduled to begin play there Jan. 31, Spears may pass up the tournament, return to the United States and prepare to play tournaments in Memphis, Indian Wells and Miami.
"This will give her a chance to rest, train and grow more fit, and play a lighter schedule," Willens said, indicating that this would enable Spears to grow stronger for her assault on the European circuit, which climaxes with the French Open (May 23-June 5) and Wimbledon (June 20-July 3).