Photograph: Getty Images
The crowd at the new KIA Arena was treated to an absolute thriller to open day two of the Australian Open.
Australian legend Samantha Stosur earned an at times tense but nonetheless magnificent win in front of an adoring home crowd. Stosur defeated her American counterpart 28-year-old and fellow wildcard recipient Robin Anderson 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-3.
It was Stosur’s first come-from-behind win at the Australian Open since 2003 where she defeated Spaniard Conchita Martinez in three sets.
This year’s Australian Open marked the twentieth and final time Stosur will compete in the women’s singles draw.
Stosur looked tense early and fell down a quick break before steadying to push Anderson to a first-set tiebreaker. With a vocal crowd behind her, Stosur was unable to capitalise on her first set comeback as Anderson built an early lead and closed out the tiebreaker 7-5.
From there, Stosur steadied and was able to rely on her heavy top-spin forehand and years of experience to take out Anderson in two and a half hours.
As Stosur defeated Anderson with her first match point the Melbourne crowd erupted and Stosur jubilantly raised her arms in the air in triumph.
Thankfully, we, her fans, are treated to at least one more Sam Stosur singles match at Melbourne Park with the Australian facing Russian tenth seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Thursday.
Speaking before at her pre-tournament press conference, Stosur acknowledged it wasn’t an easy decision to retire from the singles game.
“To be honest, I feel like since I made that decision, you know, 3 December, that was
way worse than what it feels like now. Not knowing, one day thinking this, one day thinking that, not being able to decide.
“I remember calling Stubbsy one day. She's like, All right, what are you doing today? Having a laugh about it. Actually, once I made the decision, then I felt really good about it.”
Unlike most athletes, Stosur has had the luxury (having earned the right) to decide to go out on her terms.
“I feel like I've made the decision. I feel good about it. It's on my terms. Yeah, you can go out, finish at home, finish at a Grand Slam, kind of not any better place to finish as an Australian I think.”
“Yeah, however it goes I'm really happy with that.”
Stosur reached a career-high singles ranking of world number four and is most famously remembered for taking out the 2011 US Open against women’s tennis’ greatest ever, Serena Williams, in front of Williams’ own fans in New York.
The Queenslander also excelled on the Parisian clay at Roland Garros making three separate semi-finals as well as a runner-up effort in 2010 against Italian Francesca Schiavone.
Moreover, Sam has won nine singles titles among her now 607 career singles wins. An extraordinary effort.
For what seemed like an eternity, Sam was the shining light in Australian tennis. Each year she would wear the weight of a nation at each grand slam and when donning the green and gold for the Australian Fed Cup team.
Whether she knew it or not, Sam was inspiring the current generation of Australian tennis players to chase their dreams.
Speaking to The First Serve after a tough first-round loss to Markéta Vondroušová on Tuesday, 23-year-old Priscilla Hon fondly spoke of her admiration of the Australian great.
“When I was younger I watched her so much. I remember watching her win the US Open. I’ve always looked up to her. I remember being the orange girl at the Fed Cup and she was part of that team. I just felt so special and grateful for the opportunity.”
“She’s done so much for Australian tennis and, yeah, I’ll always look up to her. She’s definitely one of the nicest people on tour. Yeah… that’s Sam”
“Being orange girl at Fed Cup [with Sam] just made me want it more. It was an amazing experience…with idols I’ve looked up to since I was growing up. It doesn’t get much better than that”
Similarly, Maddison Inglis had equally glowing praise for Stosur after her breakthrough first-round win against Canadian 23rd seed Leylah Fernandez when asked about Stosur and the impact of current world No. 1 Ash Barty as role models:
“Yeah, Sam and Ash are both amazing people and amazing role models. We're pretty lucky to have those girls as people to look up to, as Aussie tennis players.”
Men’s 32nd seed Alex de Minaur also revealed after his big first round win over Italian Lorenzo Musetti that he saw Stosur as a role model when growing up as an ambitious kid with dreams of making the big time.
“Funnily enough, I actually as a kid hit with Sam maybe once or twice in Sydney, and I could remember, you know, those days. I think we might have hit maybe on hard once and on clay out in Homebush.”
“Obviously, you know, she's always been an incredible competitor and kind of [a] role model. You know, I remember even back then me being a little kid, a little junior, she was very nice to me.”
Echoing the voices of her fellow Aussies was Australia’s world number 1 Ash Barty who, at her pre-tournament media conference perhaps put it best by simply stating “she is our champion. We love her to bits.”
“Sam, she's an Australian champion, plain and simple. She has set the tone for us Aussies as tennis players for years and years. For her to have an opportunity to go out on her terms is incredibly exciting. I'm so excited for her next chapter, what that brings in her life,” Barty continued.
“I know she's going to continue on with doubles. I think the way she's been able to pave the path and guide so many Australians, so much of the Australian tennis youth, has been nothing shy of remarkable.”
“I really hope that she gets to enjoy the experience you said come Tuesday when she's playing.”
“Yeah, I might actually be glued to that one. I might have to flick on the TV and watch her match. I love watching Sam. I love being around Sam. She's very much going to be sorely missed not just from the Aussies but from the wider tour as well.”
“I remember the first time I hit with Sam, it was here at Melbourne Park.”
“We have memories together that [will] last a lifetime.”
“She is our champion. She is going to be very missed.”
Barty’s glowing praise of our slammin’ Sam leaves nothing more to be said. At 37 years old, Sam enjoyed a magnificent singles career and will retire her singles racquet as a true legend of Australian tennis.
Furthermore, while her singles career will come to an end this week, Sam remains a world-class doubles player teaming up with Zhang Shuai as the tournament's fourth seeds this year at Melbourne Park.
At this point, all we fans can do is cheer relentlessly for Sam at each opportunity we are afforded.
When asked her thoughts on the possibility to play Pavlyuchenkova following her first-round win, Stosur said:
“Oh, that would be fun to play Pavs again. We've played many times. It's gone both ways. We've had some really close matches, played some good tennis against each other. Played doubles together. We know each other pretty well.”
And if her match against Pavlyuchenkova does end up being her last singles match; then how lucky have we been.