Sam Stosur proud of career ahead of singles swansong at Australian Open
Sam Stosur dealt with constant criticism throughout her career but retires as one of Australia’s tennis greats. She reflects on the highs and lows of her incredible tennis journey.
Sam Stosur doesn’t remember the year but vividly recalls the lesson.
She was training for the first time with a prime Martina Hingis – the former world No.1 and five-time grand slam champion – and was gasping for air after 45 minutes of non-stop hitting.
There wasn’t so much as a drink in between.
“It was incredibly intense and like a new level, playing with someone of that calibre,” Stosur told News Corp.
“But that showed me the level of what it takes. It was an absolutely huge learning curve.
“I know other people have said that about me now. So it’s like, ‘Wow, I learned that from someone like her just by being on the court doing that’.”
Hingis will go down as one of the all-time greats, and Stosur as one of Australia’s best.
Only six Australian women have won a grand slam singles title in tennis’ open era, since 1968: Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Kerrie Reid (nee Melville), Chris O’Neil, Sam Stosur and Ash Barty.
They’re bloody hard to win, but Stosur joined that company on one magical day in New York in 2011, overcoming arguably the greatest player who ever lived, Serena Williams.
Stosur will forever be a US Open champion, and months later described her performance that afternoon as the “absolute pinnacle”.
It’s hard to argue after watching the match back this week.
All the Stosur trademarks were there: the visor, the understated fist pump, the blowing on the fingers on her right hand as she waited to receive serve.
Most importantly, her game was singing all the right tunes.
“The way I played is the absolute pinnacle of where you want to get to,” Stosur said.
“Now I know that is possible. That’s maybe close to my top level or best level you can do. You know that’s up there and achievable. You want to keep pushing for that.”
Stosur returned Williams’ serve as well as anyone, crunched winners at will – most of them inside-out forehands – her ‘kicker’ serve caused trouble and she survived the tough moments she hasn’t always thrived upon.
The Australian champion never professes to be perfect. Analysing her resume is complicated and those who chronicled her career struggled to untangle it.
She’s come to accept all this in her own genial way.
Stosur was even able to make a joke when asked almost six years ago – after a first-round Australian Open defeat – how she thought she would be remembered as a tennis player.
“Well, hopefully not from my Australian Open results,” Stosur quipped.
Then she became more serious.
“I’ve had a really good career. I’ve achieved a lot of things,” Stosur continued.
“Winning a grand slam was my dream from when I was eight or nine years old, and I’ve been able to do that. There’s been a lot of good in my career.
“But, I’d obviously like to do better here at the Open.”
It wasn’t isolated self-deprecation.
Stosur poked fun at her Wimbledon shortcomings a few weeks ago at Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club’s Pro-Am event, after Todd Woodbridge quizzed her on what it was like to play on Kooyong’s grass.
“It was lovely – I think everyone knows grass wasn’t my preferred surface.” Cue the laughter.
Stosur, now 37 and more than a decade removed from her career-high ranking of No.4, announced this week she will play her final singles tournament at the Australian Open in two weeks’ time.
It will be her 20th main draw singles appearance in Melbourne, matching Lleyton Hewitt’s extraordinary effort.
She will continue to play doubles for at least the rest of this year.
Stosur didn’t reveal her singles retirement in a media conference or with big fanfare but rather in a succinct, appreciative and humble Instagram post.
It was fitting in many ways, and not least because one of the more nonsensical criticisms of Stosur – as people searched for new ways to do so – linked her social media activity to her lack of title success.
“I do feel like a little too often it’s been about ‘Sam the disappointment’,” Stosur told News Corp in an extensive interview last January. “Or, if you lose early at the Aussie Open, you’re not so good or whatever.”
Stosur also reached the 2010 French Open final – she was favoured to win that match but Italy’s Francesca Schiavone pipped her in two tight sets – and was a semi-finalist on the Roland Garros clay three other times.
How would she be remembered if she had two grand slam singles titles?
Stosur boasts a pair of US Open quarter-final runs, too, on top of her Flushing Meadows triumph.
The furthest she ever went at Melbourne Park were two fourth-round efforts in 2006 and 2010, the first of them setting up a showdown with Hingis on Rod Laver Arena.
The Swiss Miss needed a lengthy second-set tie-break to see off a 21-year-old Stosur in a high-quality encounter.
“That was amazing, playing, obviously, a legend of the sport on Rod Laver Arena,” Stosur said. “Moments like that are really, really special.”
Two other highlights at her home grand slam were capturing the mixed doubles trophy with countryman Scott Draper in 2005 and the women’s doubles championship with China’s Zhang Shuai in 2019.
Both, according to Stosur, came “out of the blue”, much like her and Zhang’s US Open victory this past September.
Stosur also partnered American Lisa Raymond to the US Open women’s doubles title way back in 2005.
“That was an incredible feeling. I didn’t necessarily, by any means, expect to be walking home with a trophy,” she said of her 2021 victory.
“Shuai and I had an amazing few weeks; winning the week before and being able to continue it through to New York.
“It felt pretty special to hold a grand slam title again after the year (we had) and being away for such a long time.”
Stosur and her partner, Liz, are mothers now to 19-month-old Evie, who represents a significant part of the tennis great’s present and future.
That’s one of the reasons why she closed “the first chapter” in her career this week. But what a chapter it has been.
A grand slam singles title. Seven more in doubles. Five Olympic Games. A career-best ranking of No.4. A remarkable 452-straight weeks at one stage as Australia’s No.1 woman.
The player who ended that streak, Daria Saville, remains in awe of Stosur.
“She’s kind of my mentor and whenever I have a few doubts; I feel like I can always have a conversation with Sam,” Saville said.
“I’ve always loved being on tour with Sam and since coming to Australia (from Russia); seeing her working out at the National Tennis Centre always amazed me with how hard she works.”
Perhaps, Stosur can thank that unforgiving session with Hingis for some of that famed work ethic and, of course, the rippling physique that comes with it.
People often don’t appreciate what they have until it’s gone – and Stosur might be a living example of that.
But what matters most is that Stosur herself can look back with satisfaction.
“After playing my first AO, I never thought I’d still be playing now, but I’m just proud of the longevity that I’ve been able to have and being able to sustain a good level,” she said.
“It feels a bit different going into this (Australian summer). I always want to try my best but it’s kind of a different feeling.
“I want to enjoy it and soak everything up but, obviously, you still want to win, because that competitiveness never, ever goes away.”
Originally published as Sam Stosur proud of career ahead of singles swansong at Australian Open