Samantha Stosur: Putting Australian Tennis Back on the Map

On the Baseline Tennis News

FLUSHING MEADOWS, New York—Greetings from the US Open. It has been an amazing first week — record crowds, dramatic upsets, and incredible comebacks. And then there’s that pint-sized, 17-year-old American girl, who can beat just about anyone, simply by believing that she can.

Samantha StosurThere’s no doubt that American tennis is on the rise. But a few days ago, I found myself sitting over on the Grandstand, watching Australia’s No. 1 player, Samantha Stosur compete against American Vania King. When I saw (and heard) the rowdy Aussie fans, I was reminded of a time when Aussie fans were regulars at tennis tournaments, cheering on the likes of Patrick Rafter, Mark Philippoussis, and Pat Cash.

In recent years, Lleyton Hewitt has been the one to give Aussie fans something to cheer about. But since Evonne Goolagong dominated in the 70’s and 80’s, very few Australian women have been able to climb to the top of the tennis ranks. Until Samantha Stosur. I had the chance to catch up with Samantha on Sunday, just after she won her 3rd round US Open match with doubles partner Rennae Stubbs.

Samantha Stosur (who goes by her nickname Sam) is experiencing one of the best years of her career, getting to her first Grand Slam singles semifinal at the French Open, and the final of Los Angeles. She’s currently ranked No. 15 in singles, and No. 4 in doubles, and is possibly on her way to winning her second US Open doubles title.

Outside of competition here at the US Open, Sam says she’s really enjoying her time in New York, spending time with her parents and brothers, who are in town to watch her play. Samantha has been staying in more often than not, enjoying her mother’s homemade cooking. Sam and I had a chance to talk a little bit about her off-court hobbies (surfing and mountain biking), but our conversation quickly turned to her view on the state of Australian women’s tennis.

Sam admits that Australian tennis simply isn’t where it ought to be, or even where it could be. “For the last few years, we’ve struggled a little bit and haven’t had too many players in the top 100,” said Sam. “The men were always pretty strong, and now we’ve actually overtaken them. But on the whole, during the last 3-4 years, the women’s side has been pretty unlucky with injuries and illnesses.”

Alicia Molik, who retired in 2008 due to injuries, has recently made a comeback on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, playing doubles in New Haven as a wildcard. “It’s unfortunate the last couple of weeks,” said Sam. “Alicia didn’t get through the match in the doubles, but it’s one of those things that might take a while for her to find her feet again.” Casey Dellacqua, a former top-10 doubles player, needed to have left shoulder surgery in February 2009, and is taking time off to recover. Even though she has not set a date for her comeback, she could return to the Tour sometime after the U.S. Open. Jelena Dokic was diagnosed with mononucleosis just after Wimbledon this year, and just recently made her comeback at the US Open.

Sam herself was sidelined in 2007 with Lyme disease, just after the French Open. She was forced to take the rest of the year off to recover. “We’ve all had something that’s kept us out for quite a long time,” Sam said. “If it wasn’t for those few things, we could have had a really strong group of girls up there for quite a long time. But, that’s the way things go. I’m back now, and Casey is trying to get back as soon as she can. So hopefully, in the next six months, it will be where it could have been a little while ago.”

Sam also gives credit to Aussie players who came before her and set the standard for excellence. In particular, Evonne Goolagong Cawley. “Evonne was our Fed Cup captain about three years ago. I was lucky to play under her,” said Sam. “She’s an unbelievably genuine, nice person, and always tried to help wherever she could. Obviously, she’s a great role model for all the Australian girls, whether they’re playing tennis or not playing tennis. She’s a huge icon in Australia.”

I also had a chance to pick Sam’s brain about the serve and volley playing style. Is it too late for a comeback, I asked? “I don’t know if it will ever return the way it was,” said Sam. “Nowadays, returns in general are a lot stronger than what they were. With the technology, the racquets, and the balls, it’s pretty hard to come in off your serve. I don’t know if it will ever return to what it was back in the day.”

Sam Stosur and Rennae Stubbs will be playing their quarterfinal doubles match on Tuesday against Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova. I fully expect to see (and hear) the Aussie fans having something to cheer about.

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