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Stosur still adjusting the net for grass


 

Originally published on: 14/06/10 20:02

Having a journalist inform you that you ‘lost the plot’ during your match is probably the last thing any player wants to hear in the post-match press conference (or any fellow journalist for that matter – should the jibe misfire there could well be a none-too-pleased editor on the phone, suddenly in need of some inspired filler). But Sam Stosur can handle a bit of banter.

“Thanks,” she shot back with a grin.

She also handled 2009’s WTA wunderkind Melanie Oudin in her opening match during a 6-4 6-4 win, but only after bouncing back from a 4-1 deficit in the second set.

“Things can turn around pretty quick on grass,” said Stosur, admitting that she had expected a workout from her 18-year-old opponent. “Melanie had a great Wimbledon last year and obviously likes playing on grass – for her it feels somewhat comfortable.”

Comfortable. It was a word Stosur returned to many a time, and undoubtedly says something about her relative discomfort on the green stuff. Over the past five years she has notched up just fourteen wins (fifteen including today’s victory) and eleven losses, and is yet to go beyond the third round at Wimbledon – a fact that is “goal No.1” on her to-do-better list.

“It’s a tricky surface that not everyone feels comfortable on,” admitted Stosur, though it perhaps disarms the Aussie’s style more than you might expect. A former doubles world No.1 who is “trying to work on” her serve and volley? Apparently so, though as she points out, “there’s probably no better place to do that than on the grass.”

No better place, and for Stosur no better time. Over the past twelve months the 26-year-old has made the leap from surprise package to contender at the sharp end of the Tour. A semi-final appearance at Roland Garros in 2009 and third final appearance in Los Angeles came before her first WTA Tour title in Osaka – where she beat Francesca Schiavone, of all people, in the final – and a top-20 finish to the season.

It marked a swift and welcome return to form two years on from a season ravaged by the potentially life-threatening Lyme disease. Since then she’s become feared for her booming serve and wicked forehand. But not, to date, on grass.

Top on the list of adjustments she is working through is “trying to flatten out the ball a little bit more. You don’t get the reward for hitting with such heavy topspin like I do on other surfaces, and I’ve got to work on my slice serve a little bit more.”

It’s the brevity of it all that makes grass court tennis so difficult, not just for Stosur but virtually every player, barring those select few who thrive on the grass.

The season is so short, and the adjustment from the European clay courts so dramatic – modern grass courts may be ‘slower’, but only in the way that Tyson Gay is ‘slower’ than Usain Bolt – that while players recognise the need to adjust, few can justify making potentially unsettling wholesale adjustments to their game for the sake of two or three events.

“To say ‘you can’t take it too seriously’ is the wrong way to put it,” said Stosur, a diplomatic response compared to Marat Safin’s ‘grass is for the cows’ slight of days gone by.

“You’ve got to go in and just play – there’s no point getting frustrated or not feeling good because it is only a few weeks and you don’t get another chance for another year.”

Stosur was similarly philosophical when asked about the aftermath of Roland Garros a little over a week ago. Physically in good shape after a gruelling clay court season, the toughest thing has been to put memories of the final to rest.

“The next couple of days when I had a chance to try and switch off and not think about tennis any more it always kept cropping up,” she admitted. Understandably, it will take some time to stick a pin in the loss to Francesca Schiavone.

But it won’t hold her back. “I can’t keep dwelling on a match that happened nine days ago,” she countered. “I lost fair and square. She played very well and I played a good match, there’s a winner and there’s a loser, so it’s not like I had to bury my head in the sand and think ‘why couldn’t I have played well?’”

Paris was without doubt a blow to Stosur, but like everything else life has thrown at her, she’ll handle it.

Could she yet learn to handle grass? With the year she’s had, don’t rule it out.

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