The Sam Stosur redemption tour continues at Rod Laver Arena today, with support from China’s Zheng Jie.
This time last year Sam Stosur was anywhere but Melbourne Park. A first-round shock loss to Sorana Cirstea triggered a hiatus for Stosur who had endured a summer to forget.
Fast forward 12 months and once again Stosur was facing another lean Australian summer. First-round losses in Brisbane and Sydney were not part of the plan.
A preseason interrupted by ankle surgery to remove bone spurs put the Australian behind in her preparation. Cue disappointment in Brisbane and Sydney.
Now for the good stuff. Yes, Stosur did lose in Sydney, but it was over three sets, and the world No.9’s level of play was an improvement on her straight-sets Brisbane exit.
“I definitely feel like I improved throughout the last couple of weeks coming into this match. Obviously it's hard to necessarily, you know, prove that when you're not winning those matches,” Stosur told reporters after her first-round Australian Open win over Kai-Chen Chang.
“I still think there is a load of room for improvement at the moment but, you know, it's just the start of the tournament. Hopefully each match I can get a little bit better. You know, the next round is going to be very tough, and I will hopefully play better again and [go] from there.”
Which brings us to Zheng. The world No.40 proved to be the thorn in Stosur’s side last week in Sydney. That win, however, was Zheng’s only morsel in a similarly lean 2013.
A semifinalist here in 2010, Zheng has progressed further in Melbourne than Stosur, whose best return is fourth-round showings in 2010 and 2006.
Stosur holds a 3-2 head-to-head advantage over Zheng, which should give her some confidence. Throw in the fact that all three of those wins came on hard court and Stosur should be feeling good about her chances.
The concern for Stosur though is the pressure to perform when the spotlight is on her. In her favour, much of the focus in 2013 has been on Bernard Tomic and Lleyton Hewitt who both won titles the week before the Australian Open. And this suits Stosur just fine.
“I think this year I do feel better about things. I don't feel as probably uptight or stressed or anything like that than last year. I think last year I didn't handle it so well. I do feel better about things at the moment.”
But the fact remains; Zheng beat Stosur just one week ago, and the Australian will have to find another level of improvement in her game if she’s to avenge that loss. She knows exactly where to start.
“I wasn't too happy with my return last week in Sydney, and overall I think just probably need to play a little bit better.
“I mean, we have had some pretty close matches in the past, and last week is certainly going to be a good one to look back on and maybe watch again and see what I did, you know, well and what I didn't do well.
“I think at the end of the day it's going to be my game, and I've got to focus on that.”
Local fans will no doubt be hoping that Wednesday’s leg of the Stosur Redemption tour will not be the last. And so will Sam.