New York’s Unassuming Defending Champion

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While there are only a handful of women considered true contenders for this year’s U.S. Open women’s title, should it be a surprise that defending champion Sam Stosur is not one of them? Maybe it’s partly due to many still trying to wrap their heads around the improbable run of the Aussie star who had only won two career singles titles prior to New York last year and was best known for losing to Francesca Schiavone in the finals of Roland Garros in 2010.

But maybe this is for the best. After all, the very professional but yet very camera shy Stosur has never been good at either dealing with expectation or being the center of attention either on court or off. Just look at her dismal first round exit at her home Slam in Melbourne this year where a whole nation tried to rally “Our Sam” despite the fact she looked like she wanted to be anywhere else but on Rod Laver Arena. To her credit, Stosur did turn her season around including posting decent results on her preferred surface of clay with yet another run to the semis of Roland Garros but her hard court results this summer have been mediocre and not the sort of preparation she would have liked heading into defend her title.

Could Sam make a run back to the finals? Well anything is possible especially within the WTA. After all, no one expected Schiavone to make a return trip to the finals of Paris so perhaps if Stosur can make it to the second week at Flushing Meadows, she has a decent, if yet still outside chance, to go deep. Aside from her big kick serve, the other thing Stosur has in her favor is a surprisingly large amount of vocal supporters in New York who appreciate the Aussie’s “let’s just get the job done” demeanor on court. And after winning last year, Stosur will likely receive rowdy yet appreciative support every time she takes the court.

The lack of press, except in Australia, on Stosur leading up to New York is telling in some ways and not just given the low expectations many have of her. In the twelve months since she won, the stories of Victoria Azarenka reaching No. 1, Maria Sharapova’s completing a career Grand Slam and Serena Williams’s just earning a “Golden Slam” have rightfully dominated the headlines and those will be the three women everyone will be focused on. Stosur as a player or a person isn’t viewed as compelling as these other stars to international media so hence the lack of coverage on her.

Stosur’s victory may not feel as historic or impactful as Schiavone’s title run that made her her the first Italian woman to win a Major or Li Na’s Roland Garros victory that made her a national hero in China. But let’s not forget that Stosur’s win was a much-needed moment of relevancy for Australian tennis that after Lleyton Hewitt had not had a Major champion in over a decade as well as Stosur being the first Aussie woman to win a Major singles title in 31 years. If Stosur’s win inspired a new generation to take up the sport down under, that just might be the legacy that best suits Stosur instead of earning any kind of international superstar status.

Sam Stosur will be forever known as a U.S. Open winner even though she may be one of the few defending champions that may have to be asked for her credentials every time she walks through the gates of Arthur Ashe Stadium. She may never get all the fame or appreciation that she deserves for her achievement back in 2011, but even if she loses early this year, she knows that her name will be forever etched in tennis history.

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