As a Grand Slam champion and recent world No.4, Sam Stosur has been around the international media long enough to know the question is coming: how will she handle the expectations of her home major?
It’s relevant, of course, considering the early exits of recent years that contrast so sharply with her US Open triumph in 2011, when a steely Stosur saved match points against some tough early-round opponents before outclassing Serena Williams in the final. At Australian Open 2013, a disappointing summer at home concluded with a three-set loss to Zheng Jie in the second round.
Still, Stosur was positive on Saturday when she was asked to explain the difficulties of competing at Melbourne Park.
“I guess there [are pressures] because I’m the top female player from this country. We’ve got a huge Grand Slam tournament,” conceded the 29-year-old.
“But you know, I don’t think that’s really bothered me this time around so far. At the end of the day, it’s always been a really positive thing. Anyone that has ever come up to me just wants me to do well and they wish me luck … I know they just want the best for me.
“I want to play to play well and play my best tennis here in Australia and give them something to cheer about.”
With a new summer routine heading into Australian Open 2014 and a new coach in Miles Maclagan, Stosur might indeed give the fans something to get excited about this time around. Having started her season at the Hopman Cup before heading to Hobart, where she was a semifinalist, the current No.18 is feeling match-ready.
“I loved it. I thought it was a great event,” she said of her first appearance in Hobart in a decade, where she survived two consecutive three-set matches, saving match points against Kristina Mladenovic in the second round.
“Scrapping through that first match was obviously a big step for me. That second one was kind of a similar situation, down those match points. (It’s) good to win from that situation.”
If there was an unusual synchronicity in Stosur’s semifinal conqueror, Klara Zakopalova, also being the one she drew for her Australian Open first round, there was also an advantage too: the chance to iron out some kinks before Monday’s match.
“I thought it was a bit funny. We still had to play yesterday in Hobart,” said Stosur of learning her first Australian Open opponent, who has played two other matches against the Czech on home soil.
“(It’s) a bit strange; this will be the third time we’ve played in the first round of the Aussie Open.”
The good news for Stosur fans is that she claimed both those first round matches against Zakopalova, in 2007 and 2009, in straight sets. No doubt there’ll also be some expert guidance this time, with new coach Maclagan having previously worked with Brits Andy Murray and Laura Robson.
Not that Stosur is making dramatic changes with her new mentor, who replaced former Australian Fed Cup captain David Taylor. Rather, it’s a case fine-tuning the big-serving and hard-hitting style that has worked for many years.
“I’m really pleased with the way it’s gone so far with Miles,” Stosur said.
“I’m enjoying my time on court, the way things have gone, discussing things after matches, all that kind of thing. I feel like we’re on the same wavelength, which is obviously a big thing.”
It’s that positive side of tennis that brings out the best in the top-ranked local, perhaps even enough for her to improve on the fourth round finishes she achieved at the Australian Open in 2006 and 2010.
“I think that’s a big thing,” Stosur agreed.
“If you can relax and do all those things, you don’t feel that pressure; you obviously allow yourself to play your best tennis.”