Sam Stosur, a key member of Australia's Fed Cup Final team, admits Aussies haven't seen her best tennis on home soil. But a recent discovery has changed the way she feels about her career.
Sam Stosur for AthletesVoice
It was an incredible moment and feeling.
Winning the doubles with Ash to get Australia into our first Fed Cup final in 26 years, and playing like that in front of a home crowd in Brisbane, was just amazing.
Unfortunately, I haven’t had my best results on home soil over the years.
Traditionally, the public’s attention has been on the Aussie summer of tennis and Wimbledon each year, and the bulk of my success has come at Roland Garros and the US Open, as well as other big tournaments outside of Australia.
I was reading an article the other week that listed a whole bunch of my achievements throughout my career and I thought, ‘Wow, even I need to give myself more credit for what I have been able to do over so many years’.
It kind of took me by surprise, reading it, because I think when you’re living in the moment and you’re still playing, you almost don’t allow yourself to completely appreciate what you’ve been able to do because you’re always striving for more, and you always want more.
I mean, all you want on court each day is to play well, play to the level that you know you’re capable of, and if that ends up being a win in a moment like the one I had with Ash in such a close, high-pressure match, then that’s icing on the cake.
So you’ve just got to put yourself in those positions as often as possible, and know that if you knuckle down and play well you’re going to have a chance, like we did in Brisbane.
To be able to represent Australia for as many years as I have, not just in Fed Cup but at four Olympic Games, is something I’m very proud of. It’s certainly a special occasion every time I’m able to do that, and I can’t wait to finally be playing in a Fed Cup final, in Perth, this weekend against France.
My role reversal
My Fed Cup debut came back in 2003 in Wollongong against Colombia. I actually remember the match pretty well, believe it or not. I certainly don’t remember all of them!
I lost 6-4 in the third to Fabiola Zuluaga. Being in that situation for the first time, I was obviously a bit nervous as I was going out to play, but knew that I had my teammates behind me, and they wouldn’t have put me in if they didn’t believe that I was capable of potentially winning.
I just remember playing a great match and loving the feeling of being out there, playing Fed Cup with my teammates on the sidelines, the crowd all going bananas.
So 16 years later to be in a final for the first time is incredible. And being part of this team again is amazing.
It’s a role reversal now. I’ve gone from being the youngest player alongside Alicia Molik (who’s now the captain), Nicole Pratt and Rennae Stubbs, to the oldest player, at 35.
We’re really lucky to have Ash as No.1 in the world and our No.1 player, absolutely. But I guess given that I’ve played so many Fed Cup ties and matches, it’s great that all my experience as a player and a leader can help Ash and the rest of the team.
I have always tried to lead by example and do what I can in the team environment. Obviously you’ve got to be prepared to play your own matches, but also to do whatever it takes for your teammates, and I think on the whole something we do very well in our Australian team is that we do back each other.
If anyone needs anything we’re there, and whoever gets picked to play it’s always ‘all right, yep, we’re going to support them, that’s the decision’, and then we go with it. We can take a lot of pride in that.
Ash has really come out of her shell
Ash has obviously had an incredible year. Not just in Fed Cup, but almost any week in general, she’s just been able to come up with the goods.
I don’t think there’s been too many matches where she’s been outplayed or lost by playing poorly. Her level is incredibly high at the moment and she’s riding a lot of confidence. Being No.1 in the world, that’s as good as it gets.
So it’s obviously no big secret that we’re all looking for Ash to do well in her singles matches, and be able to lead us in that way.
In the team environment, and outside it, I would say in the last 12 months or so she’s probably come out of her shell a little bit. Even a few years ago she was a lot more quiet and reserved, and now it’s really nice to see her open up and express herself and be a little more extroverted.
Anyone can see how she’s grown as a person over the last couple of years and, given what she’s been able to achieve on court and what that extra spotlight can do to someone, it would be pretty easy to go the other way.
But that’s all part of the way that she’s handled being in the position she’s in. It’s so good to see.
Before that deciding fifth rubber in Brisbane, we’d never played a doubles match together; only six or seven games in practice during that week. But it was kind of ‘all right, we’re going in’.
I lost to Vika (Azarenka) pretty easily in the reverse singles on the Sunday, so even though I thought I was still going to be playing the dubs, I did ask the question: ‘So, am I playing?’. Alicia and Ash looked at me and were like ‘Ah, yeah! Get ready’. So I did. Quickly.
To be thrown out there just half an hour after that singles match and be able to play as well as we did together, it certainly didn’t feel like it was the first time we’d played, by any means, which is exactly what you want in that situation.
There were so many great rallies, there was so much excitement – and that crowd, that was seriously one of the best Fed Cup experiences and moments that I’ve had, and I’ve played a lot of matches.
It was quite different playing with Ash compared to my regular partner Zhang Shuai. They are both great partners and fantastic competitors but with very different personalities.
One thing that I had to get used to was Ash using signals and I never use signals in my matches, but it was obviously a great experience for both of us.
Ash has shown she can play under pressure, and she’s such a great reader of tennis, in singles or doubles, no matter what the situation, that you kind of knew ‘all right, if I’m going move there, she’s going have my back, and move to the right spot’ and vice versa. It obviously helps when you’re playing with someone who’s just such a good instinctual player.
Advice for ‘2003 Sam’
This will be my last Fed Cup match in Australia. I’m pretty certain I can say that with the format changes coming in next season.
I’ve been through Asia-Oceania qualifying rounds and been in World Group II and I’ve done it all for these years of Fed Cup, so now to be able to have this last opportunity in a home final before the Fed Cup moves to a neutral finals venue – Budapest – for 2020 makes it even more special if we do win.
For a long time when I was the No.1 player, I often felt the pressure and responsibility to get the team over the line in these Fed Cup ties, so I know how Ash will be feeling in Perth as the No.1. We’ve got great depth in Aussie women’s tennis and our team right now, so fingers crossed, we can finish on a high.
I would think there’s a good chance that I’ll be playing dubs, at least, and I would definitely love the opportunity to play singles again. I’ll be putting my hand up for that.
Even now I’m still doing all my training thinking I am going to play a singles match, because I want to be absolutely prepared if that does happen. But if it doesn’t, then I’ll be out there on the sidelines doing my best to support whoever is playing.
That’s how it was when I started, and how it’s been for all the years I’ve represented Australia. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but I’d tell ‘2003 Sam’ to hang in there because she would play a final one day. Absolutely.
That’s probably what I should say to some of the younger girls this week: you’ve been in one now, cherish it, because it may not happen for a long time, but it will happen again.
I definitely want to continue playing on the WTA next year. Reaching the final in Guangzhou in September proved to me that I could still match it with the best singles players in the world. My ranking had dropped, so coming so close to a singles title really lifted my confidence and brought me back into the Top 100.
I definitely want to keep playing some singles while it’s possible, and the Guangzhou result showed me that I’m capable of producing my best tennis when it matters.
I want to obviously try and do well in January, and see what I can do for the rest of the year, but I’d still love to play the main draw of the French Open and the other slams in 2020 and be at those tournaments and see what’s possible.
That’s where I love to play, and on those courts, all of that. So I’m going to keep going and we’ll reassess next year. As for this one, there would be no better way to finish than by winning a Fed Cup final at home.