THE incongruity of Roland Garros for Sam Stosur is that the place where she has produced her most consistent grand slam results has also been the scene of two of her most devastating losses. The clay court major that, in some ways, made her career, has also made her weep, question, and lament.
This week, almost 12 months after her painful semi-final defeat to Italian Sara Errani, Stosur walked back through the gates to prepare for a 10th appearance at the tournament that hosted her breakthrough semi-final appearance in 2009, and debut grand slam final the next year. Some great memories, certainly, but also, one would think, the ghosts of chances lost.
”I think you’d have to say it’s more of a happy place and a place you look forward to going back to. There’s maybe that missed opportunity or those really disappointing moments, but at the end of the day it’s all good going back there, that’s for sure,” Stosur said before arriving in Paris this week. ”Three out of the past four years I’ve made semis or better and they’re very good results, but in those results I’ve had probably two of the hardest losses that I can really remember, so, yeah, it is kind of bittersweet.
”Of course, getting that far is great, but you always want to keep going and do that little bit better. But I do always enjoy walking into Roland Garros and starting the tournament, and I seem to play well. For sure there’s also those lingering disappointing moments, but that’s all part of tennis. I just happened to have two of them in the same spot.”
The last, against the crafty but relatively unimposing Errani, came when a third grand slam final beckoned the 2011 US Open champion, and ranks as Stosur’s toughest loss of 2012. Seeded three places lower – ninth – this time, she has also had a compromised preparation, missing five weeks with a calf injury sustained at Indian Wells in early March that caused more problems during her aborted return in Charleston in April.
Only last week, by reaching the quarter-finals in Rome, did the 29-year-old rediscover some of the momentum she had again failed to gather during her wobbly start to the year in Australia, and which had eluded her while feeling her way in Stuttgart and Madrid. At the Foro Italico, defeats of Su-Wei Hseih and Shuai Peng and then a first career win over Petra Kvitova preceded a three-set loss to Victoria Azarenka.
”Having won those couple of matches in Rome obviously makes you feel better, then beating Petra for the first time, and then [having] a good match against Victoria, I feel like I’m back on track now,” she says. ”Even though the start of the clay court season wasn’t what I wanted it to be, I feel like now I’ve found some form before the French … You don’t like losing consecutive matches, or having not a very good win/loss record for the year at any point, especially at this time of the year, where I feel like the surface is [one] that I can do well on. So Rome was vital to at least feeling a little bit better going into the French. There’s no guarantees of what’s going to happen, but at least I’m back to where I kind of should be.”
And to where Stosur’s powerful, kick-serving, topspin game is so well suited. Indeed, the wreckage of another Australian summer would suggest that Stosur is one of the many who has found it easier to play away than at home, where the expectation is magnified.
”What’s easier is just that the French is her favourite tournament,” counters Todd Woodbridge, Tennis Australia’s head of tennis. ”It’s the tournament where she’s had the most consistent results and she doesn’t get as nervous there, I feel, because it’s a comfort zone, it’s her domain. It’s the surface that’s the standout for her and it’s the tournament that made her career – the tournament that set up her career.”
More recently, the former world No. 4 has held steady in the lower half of the top 10, despite the interruptions and indifferent results of 2013, but the player whose last title was her first major, at Flushing Meadows almost 21 months ago, will take a rankings hit if she makes an early exit in Paris this time. Not that she feels any more or less pressure in that regard, insists Stosur, who is 19th in the race to the WTA Championships that measures calendar-year results.
”I look at the year more on the whole and just try and do as well as I can every single week, and I know there’s repercussions for not doing that but, honestly, I don’t look at that too much, I don’t study it.”
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