The first was innocent enough, a double fault in the second game of the second set where Maria Sharapova's second serve meandered a little out of the box. But then there was another double fault and another and another.
Somehow Sharapova overcame the sudden disintegration of that starter shot, the one where a point should be dictated. The three-time Grand Slam champion beat Urszula Radwanska of Poland, 6-4, 7-5, a straight-set win in a quarterfinal at the L.A. Women's Tennis Championships at the Home Depot Center that was neither comfortable nor routine.
Sharapova, who is making a comeback from shoulder surgery last October, had 11 second-set double faults including seven in consecutive service games. So fragile did her serve become, with one so short it missed the net, one so long it almost left the court, that some in the sympathetic crowd used nervous laughter as a release.
But Radwanska, an 18-year-old from Poland, couldn't conquer an opponent whose composure remained solid even when the serve left her.
"In the second set, my arm was kind of lagging behind and instead of going up, I got into a little bad habit I created," Sharapova said. "It was just a matter of regrouping, refocusing."
Sharapova will play the winner of Friday night's fourth quarterfinal between 2008 tournament runner-up Flavia Pennetta of Italy and Vera Zvonareva of Russia at 7 tonight. That match didn't begin until almost 10:30 p.m.
A week ago Stosur upset Serena Williams and made it to the semifinals of the Stanford tournament and now she is a semifinalist again, her best showing in five appearances here. Stosur beat 14th-seeded Zheng Jie of China, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, Friday afternoon.
Cirstea upset the eighth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska 7-6 (4), 1-6, 7-5. Agnieszka is, at 20, two years older than Urszula, so it wasn't the best day for the Polish sisters.
As Sharapova's serve suddenly deteriorated in the second set, her reaction was to smash her forehands and punctuate some desperate winners with superior grunts, grunts louder and longer until one needed earplugs.
During a changeover, her coach, Michael Joyce, asked if her shoulder hurt or was tired and Sharapova said no, but it was only because of Sharapova's fierce will and her ability to punish Radwanska's second serve with her own consistent winners that Sharapova will be playing tonight.
"Four matches so far is a definite shock to the system after not playing for so long," Sharapova said. "At least I didn't have to play a third [set]."
Stosur has her own recovery story. She has fought her way back from Lyme disease, a strength-sapping illness that left Stosur away from tennis for much of 2007.
So it is no surprise that Stosur is happy-go-lucky now, full of smiles to go with a wicked forehand and a nicely penetrating serve that has brought her to the semifinals here.
The 25-year-old Stosur, who had been ranked as high as No. 27 before her illness, has never won a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles event, though. "I've been in four finals," Stosur said. "I lost every one in three sets, so I've gotten close. If I get through tomorrow you can be sure I'll be giving it everything I've got."
There was a big turnaround from last week to this week for Cirstea. She lost, 6-0, 6-1, to Agnieszka Radwanska at Stanford.
"Last week it was my first match on hard courts this summer," Cirstea said.
"I was trying to adjust from grass and clay and didn't have patience enough. Today I had three matches behind me, I had a lot of confidence, a lot of patience, and that's why I won."
During the 2-hour 30-minute slugfest, Cirstea said she was suffering foot pain that is coming from plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the foot. "The trainer told me I can't hurt it anymore," Cirstea said. "I'll keep playing for sure."