x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Stosur holds Australian hopes of winning in Melbourne

It's been over 30 years since the tennis season's first major was won by a native.

Lleyton Hewitt's best chance to win the Australian Open was during the peak of his career in 2005. But the home favourite eventually lost to Marat Safin in the men's singles final.
Lleyton Hewitt's best chance to win the Australian Open was during the peak of his career in 2005. But the home favourite eventually lost to Marat Safin in the men's singles final.

No Briton has won a Wimbledon men's singles title since 1936; every tennis fan in the world seems to know that. Not as commonly recognised is Australia's lack of recent champions, of either gender, in the Australian Open.

No Aussie man has won the slam event on home ground since Mark Edmondson in 1976. The last Australian women to win a singles title was Chris O'Neil in 1978.

For a decade or three Aussie men could blame bad luck. Pat Cash lost a pair of five-set finals, to Stefan Edberg in 1987 and Mats Wilander in 1988. Pat Rafter won two US Opens and was No 1 in the world but reached the semi-finals on home turf only in 2001. Lleyton Hewitt was world No 1 in 2002 and won the US Open and Wimbledon and reached the 2005 final in Melbourne, where Marat Safin defeated him.

Those were the good old days. Australian men's tennis currently is a disaster area. Hewitt (No 56) is the only Aussie ranked in the world's top 100, prompting John McEnroe to say, "Australia's in the minor leagues right now."

Aussies dominated the Australian men's competition through the amateur years and continued to do so at the dawn of the open era, as well, winning six of the first eight Australian Opens played after the game turned professional, with Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall and John Newcombe doing the honours. Then came Edmondson and, now, the abyss. Hewitt, at 30, is the country's only realistic hope on the men's side this year, and he has a tough first-round match against David Nalbandian today.

Aussie hopes are far brighter on the women's draw in the person of Samantha Stosur, who is ranked No 6 in the world and is the No 5 seed in this tournament. Once known primarily as a doubles specialist with a big serve, the 26-year-old Brisbane native had a breakout singles year in 2010, reaching the final at the French Open and the quarter-finals at the US Open.

Alicia Molik, who once was ranked as high as No 8 in the world, believes Stosur could end Aussie frustrations in their home tournament. "I really believe Sam can win it," Molik told the Sydney Daily Telegraph. "I think she has the game."

No Australian woman has seen the final since Wendy Turnbull in 1980, but they once dominated the female side, as well. Margaret Court won 11 championships and Evonne Goolagong took four.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae