x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Samantha Stosur is happy to be single

Ahmed Rizvi wonders what might have been had the world No 5 and US Open champion stayed a doubles player after battling illness.

Samantha Stosur, who defeated Lucie Safarova at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Wednesday, is one of the front-runners for the title.
Samantha Stosur, who defeated Lucie Safarova at the Dubai Tennis Championships on Wednesday, is one of the front-runners for the title.

In 2008, when Samantha Stosur resumed her tennis career after eight months out with a bacterial disease, the Australian was at a crossroads. She had the option of walking the doubles and mixed-doubles route, which had brought her plenty of success, or follow her singles dream.

She had been a solid player in singles until then, but had no titles on her CV. In doubles, she had reached No 1 alongside Lisa Raymond, with the pair winning the 2005 US Open, and the Australian and French Open titles in 2006. Together, they had 23 titles overall.

Given those statistics, the right decision would have been the doubles, but Stosur had a point to prove and she opted for the tougher road.

"Before I got sick I was always trying to be a good singles player," Stosur, 27, said. "I got to 30 in the world and hovered around there for a while. Obviously my doubles was more of a standout, winning the tournaments that I was winning and all that. It was never meant to be the focus. It just kind of happened that way. I didn't plan for it.

"Then once I did get sick and was able to play again, I thought, 'You know what? I can be better than that'. I stopped playing doubles a little bit and really focused on my singles even more.

"I think it all paid off in the end. I guess some people may have looked at it as a bit of a risk, because if I didn't do better then I wouldn't have been doing well at anything.

"But I'm glad I did take that little bit of a risk, really put all my eggs into one basket and go for it."

The decision has paid of handsomely for Stosur. Making a return to tennis through the ITF after her ranking had slipped outside the 150, the Queenslander is now ranked No 5 in the world. More importantly, she has a trophy that no Australian woman has managed to win since 1973.

At the US Open last year, Stosur became the first Australian woman to win a grand slam singles title since Evonne Goolagong Cawley's win at Wimbledon in 1980. She was also the first Australian woman to win the US Open singles since Margaret Court clinched the title in 1973.

"My goal and dream since I started was to win a grand slam," Stosur said after her triumph in New York. "Now to actually do it, it's unbelievable. Being an Australian, with that great history, to break that drought is obviously very special."

Not many would have given Stosur a chance of ending that long Australian wait for a champion, at least not in 2007, when she got the first symptoms of Lyme Disease at Wimbledon. She went to four different doctors in London, but none of them were able to correctly diagnose her problems.

Stosur's health kept going downhill and she often suffered unbearable pain. She also contracted viral meningitis because of the lack of treatment. Thankfully, her problem was finally discovered in October by an infectious disease specialist in Tampa, Florida. A long course of antibiotics followed as Stosur took the long road to recovery. Tennis dominated her thoughts even then and she wanted to be back on the court as early as possible.

"I always tried to believe that it would be possible to come back from that, and I was very lucky that I did recover very quickly and get back on the court and do what I wanted to do," Stosur said.

"So if anything, it kind of made me open my eyes more that you don't necessarily always get a second chance. I wanted to take every opportunity I had, and I have now been able to fulfil that."

The US Open was Stosur's third singles title on the WTA Tour. There should be a few more in the future. She missed out in Doha on Sunday, losing to the world No 1 Victoria Azarenka in the final.

Azarenka has withdrawn from the Dubai Tennis Championships. The tournaments second seed Petra Kvitova had opted out earlier, making Stosur, the fourth seed, one of the front-runners for the title.

"I guess there's a bit of an opportunity with those two players not here," Stosur said after her 6-1, 6-7, 6-1 win over Lucie Safarova yesterday. "Obviously they're the ones at the top of the game at the moment. But there are still a lot of other good players and you have got to play whoever it is on the other side of the net.

"So it's maybe an opportunity for everyone else, but I still think it's going to be a tough tournament to try and win."

arizvi@thenational.ae