Sam Stosur will be ending 2015 in a lower ranking than at any time since 2008, but also in a different headspace.
The 31-year-old says she cares less about chasing consistency via the weekly tournament grind, and more about prioritising and enjoying what matters most in the time she has left on the tour.
Stosur has accepted that she is still capable of following a horrible loss one week with a brilliant upset of a top-five player the next. Her attitude is thus more philosophical than it once was; a subject the world No.27 (yes, still top 30, after an Australian-high two-title year) discussed with coach David Taylor once the pair rejoined forces in April, after 20 months apart.
“Obviously whatever tournament you’re at, you’re still there and you’re still trying 100 per cent, but maybe you’re practising a few things more – kind of almost being a little bit easier on yourself,” Stosur said, before heading off to Asia for a late IPTL call-up.
“When I was top 10 for those four years or so, you live and die on every single match, and it gets really tiring, and I think that’s part of this thinking now: I don’t want to be crazy and be really angry for three days after I lose a match, but also look at it a bit more big-picture and realise ‘OK, yep, there are going to be losses, there are going to be wins and let’s kind of just carry on and roll with everything’.”
Clearly, the bar needs to be lowered, given Serena Williams has been winning most of the slams, anyway, and that the US Open that somehow got away acted as a welcome encouragement to the Australian who won the title in 2011. This time it was Flavia Pennetta’s New York fairytale; her fellow Italian understatement Roberta Vinci having so kindly slayed the American giant in the semis.
Stosur has a dreadful 0-7 record against Pennetta, who duly beat her in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows, and so has immense respect for her game. But the fact that the now-retired, soon-to-be Senora Fognini had reached five previous quarter-finals and one semi at hardcourt majors made it less of a shock to those on the inside than looking from afar.
To Stosur, it was also something else. “It’s definitely motivating for players like me,” she says. “Flavia did drop with injury and has been able to stick it out and put it all together in that right moment, so you know that it’s definitely possible.”
Does Stosur, realistically, have another slam in her? Even just the faint, hopeful, sniff of one? “Look, I don’t see why not. It’s obviously very difficult, and you don’t know, and you’ve got to work your butt off and a lot of things have got to go right for that fortnight, but I feel like if I’m able to train and do all these things, I still think that when I’m playing my best, my tennis is still good enough to do very well. Whether that’s to win a slam, who knows? But I still feel like I’m capable of having good results.”
Yes, but Williams, along with now-retired Li Na, are two exceptions to the general over-30s-struggle-to-win-gals’-majors rule. Stosur acknowledges that, and that she is “definitely” feeling more bodily aches and pains in her senior years, while pointing out that at least those elderly citizens who have defied the trend have done it more regularly in recent years “than ever before, so that’s a good thing in my favour”.
Another motivation is to regain the Australian No.1 ranking seized by Bernard Tomic in September, which ended his fellow Queenslander’s six-and-a-half-year stay at the summit. She likes the view from up there, Stosur admits, and believes the waning motivation she identified as missing about April 2014 and re-found in unusual circumstances – a tough Fed Cup defeat to German Andrea Petkovic last February, 10-8 in the fifth – leaves her better placed to enjoy it again.
“That match was a bit of a turning point for me. I finally felt like I really enjoyed that fight and the competitiveness. Looking back, I didn’t actually play that great but hung in there with lots of other good stuff and I think that was kind of where I was able to turn it around a bit this year.”
And if she hadn’t? Visions of curtain closing and warm applause? “I don’t know,” says the three-time Olympian, who is determined to make it four in Rio next year. “I would have kept going, but I think it just would have been harder and maybe taken a bit longer to believe in my tennis again and produce some better tennis.”
However heartfelt the ovation, it is, in fact, impossible to imagine a non-tennis public stage for the very private Stosur, who is almost the anti-Kyrgios/Tomic. Approachable and friendly like Bernie, yes, but never with any questions over her commitment or work ethic, or preference for partying over practicality. Ask what she makes of the young lads’ behavioural shenanigans, generally, and she chuckles.
“They’re famous, or however you want to put it, because they’re tennis players, so I’d rather be making headlines for what you’re doing on the court rather than maybe some silly things off the court or silly things that you’re doing on the court,” she says.
“That’s just me and that’s the way I look at it and the way I’ve kind of always been, but you can’t deny that Bernie and Nick are exceptional tennis players and they have the potential to have great careers, so if I was them I’d kind of be looking at that and thinking ‘you know, I’ve got a real shot to do something pretty spectacular, so put everything into that and do all the other stuff afterwards’.”
Does she sometimes shake her head at some of the goings-on? Pause. “Ah, yep, but I don’t think I’m the only one who does that.”
In the meantime, she is preparing in Osaka, Manila and then Sydney to go around again, back to her old home (Queensland) to start another summer at the Brisbane International, and then her adopted one (Sydney), before yet another venture to (Melbourne’s) heartbreak hotel. Let’s not rehash the stats here, but just leave it at never-an-Open-quarter-finalist, and out-in-the-second-round in 2015.
So to January, and a 14th Australian Open beckons. “There’s only going to be so many summers left for me, and I don’t really have much to defend at all, so it’s going out there and enjoying those moments,” Stosur says. “I feel like last year I played pretty well, and got beaten by a player (Coco Vandeweghe) who was better on the day, so that’s the way it goes sometimes, but I feel like I’m doing what I can to have a really good summer.”
How many are left? “Um, well, realistically there’s probably only a few where I’m going to be playing close to my best, or my best. I know that, but I don’t think about it every day; it doesn’t necessarily worry me. I guess the thing that I do think about is I want to enjoy those moments, because who knows how many more times you’re going to walk out onto Rod Laver Arena.”
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