As well-travelled as Sam Stosur is, nothing prepared the Australian for the experience of traversing the globe in her return to the tour this year during the midst of a pandemic.
The 37-year-old entered hotel quarantine in Melbourne last Thursday after a four-month trip abroad that culminated with a very special success in the US Open doubles.
In a rare display of emotion, Stosur shed tears after partnering Zhang Shuai to a 6-3 3-6 6-3 triumph over American teenagers CoCo Gauff and Caty McNally in the final.
The victory occurred 16 years after her first US Open doubles crown and ten years after she stunned Serena Williams to claim the biggest singles title of her career in New York.
Due to the difficulty surrounding travel for Australians, Stosur travelled abroad without her partner Liz Astling and their daughter Evie.
The sacrifice added to the emotion she felt on finishing her road trip with doubles titles in Cincinnati and at Flushing Meadows.
“In 2005, winning the doubles there, I was 21 or something and I was like, ‘Oh My God, I have won a grand slam’ in disbelief, I guess. And the singles, obviously, was just super special. There are lots of good memories there,” Stosur told The First Serve.
“But … this one felt even a little bit different to the AO (doubles) crown of 2019. I don’t think I remember having tears welling up in my eyes after winning a tournament before.
“To have that success after three or four months away, and the sacrifices that you go through to make that happen, because as much as you like to play, there are other things going on in life, it makes it worth it and it is gratifying and satisfying to come home with a win like that.”
The sweetest of successes certainly makes spending a fortnight in quarantine a little easier to stomach, though the eight-time grand slam winner is desperate to see her family.
But Stosur readily acknowledges her good fortune in being able to pursue her career and then make it back to Australia at all in a time where travel remains incredibly difficult.
With Covid-19 outbreaks in New South Wales and Victoria growing, the number of international arrivals into Australia from abroad was reduced again last week.
Effectively, the number of travellers arriving in New South Wales to enter quarantine has dipped from about 6000 a week in early July to just 750 people midway through September.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indicated a transition to home quarantine for fully vaccinated returning Australians will occur when the inoculation rate hits 80 percent, with that mark estimated to be reached in December.
Tennis Australia is monitoring the situation closely given it still harbours hope of running an Australian summer schedule as close to normal as possible in 2022.
For the second year in succession, there is a challenge to bring the world’s top tennis players to Australia.
TA also has the issue of managing how to get officials who are at the Laver Cup being held in Boston next weekend home.
Not surprisingly, Stosur was stunned by how much travel had changed from her last road trips in 2019 when she departed for England via Singapore earlier this year.
Singapore’s Changi Airport is one of the world’s busiest and best. It almost makes a layover bearable. But it was a ghost town when Stosur got off the plane.
“You can’t fathom how different it is. It is nuts. I thought, ‘Oh My God. What is going on?’,” she said.
Nothing had changed when Stosur returned from New York, via Singapore, to Melbourne last week in a passage that took 38 hours door-to-door.
During the six-hour layover in Singapore, those heading to Melbourne were unable to leave a transition lounge due to Covid-19 safety protocols.
Storm Sanders, a doubles semi finalist at Wimbledon, is also in quarantine in Melbourne. She flew via Paris and her commute was even longer than the US Open doubles champion.
Stosur was supreme on the court and also fortunate off it, having booked her flight home out from New York months ago before prices skyrocketed amid increasing cancellations.
“I could not have picked that date better if I tried,” she said.
“But the difficulty is real. Storm was getting told, ‘You can get one in November’. And she was saying, ‘But it is September and I want to get home now.’ But you just can’t. She was lucky a seat popped up.
“It is crazy expensive. We are talking $16 to $17 grand one way to get home. And the seat might pop up on the day.
“People who are living or working in other locations, they just can’t pack up and leave in a few hours.
“I have a real appreciation for all the Aussies who have not been able to get home and don’t know when they can get home, because it is really, really tough.”
John Millman, who is in Nur-Sultan to defend the Astana Open title he won last year, is among those unsure when he will be able to get home. It is a daunting situation, he said.
The Queenslander hopes to be part of the Davis Cup squad that will compete in Turin and Madrid in November but has no certainty about how the rest of the year will pan out.
“To be honest, I don’t know if I will get home,” he said.
“I am trying to put my hand up, to try and get some results, for the Davis Cup. If I do, then I imagine it will be December when I look to come home.
“But because of the restrictions that are in place, with the Australian Open and what we are hearing now, you might only have ten days at home before you have to get to Melbourne.
“It is not something that is ideal going into a grand slam. So if that is the case, and if there is no easing of the hard hotel quarantine, I might end up going all the way through and missing Christmas.”
Fellow Davis Cup member Matt Ebden is also in Nur Sultan and desperately trying to find a flight back to Western Australia with his wife.
“I was speaking to Matty Ebden and I think the cheapest flight they could find was $26,000 and there was only limited availability,” he said.
“They were not sure if they could get on that. That is something that I will have to cross. “Even if I wanted to get home, from what a few of the Aussies have looked at in terms of flights, some of them are struggling to get on flights.”
Australian players still on the road are spread far and wide. Ash Barty has taken a brief break in England and it remains unclear whether she will play in Indian Wells next month.
Compatriots from the ATP and WTA Tours through to those competing in $15,000 ITF tournaments played in the US, Turkey, France, Montenegro, Serbia, Portugal, Tunisia, Spain and South Africa last week.
All will need to get home at some stage. And it will not be easy.
Listen to The First Serve with Brett Phillips each Monday at 8pm AEST on 1116AM SEN Melbourne, 1629AM SEN SA / 1170am Sydney or listen live and catch up on the SEN App.
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