Ashleigh Barty put it back on the agenda – in her winner’s speech on the French Open podium, no less.
So, let’s talk about Samantha Stosur and her legacy.
Stosur beat Serena Williams in a US Open final. Beat her comfortably, in fact, 6-2 6-3 in one hour and 13 minutes.
There’s barely a need to say more. That result, against a strong CV in both singles and doubles, makes Stosur an Australian tennis great. Therefore, the prospect of her being remembered by many Aussie fans as a choker is deeply unjust.
Yes, Stosur has a poor record in Australia and yes, she’s lost some big matches she should have won. But she also did the tennis equivalent of beating Mike Tyson. Her defeat of Serena to win a Grand Slam final was one of the great Australian sporting achievements.
Serena was recovering from injury and also a life-threatening blood clot in 2011, the year Stosur conquered her at Flushing Meadows, but she was well and truly back by the time the tournament began. She beat major winners Victoria Azarenka and Ana Ivanovic in the early rounds, then crushed world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-finals.
Stosur beat world No.2 Vera Zvonereva in the quarters and a rising Angelique Kerber, now a triple Slam winner, in the semis. And then, the Serena showdown.
Stosur was 27 for that final, Williams not quite 30 and only mid-way through writing her legend. Her record in Grand Slam finals was 13-3, with two of the losses to big sister Venus, and she’d won every major: five Australian Opens, a French Open, four Wimbledons and three US Opens.
Williams was a colossus, just gearing up for a six-year spree that earned her another 10 Slams. And Stosur beat her, on her home turf. It was one of the great non-chokes in Australian sporting history.
“I had one of my best days and I’m very fortunate that I had it on this stage in New York,” Stosur said afterwards.
“Ever since I started playing it was a dream of mine to be here one day. I don’t really know what to say. Serena, you are a fantastic player, great champion and have done wonders for our sport.”
Typical of Stosur, it was a remarkably gracious speech; because Serena didn’t just bring her formidable skills to that final. She also brought an A-grade tantrum.
Just as she did with Naomi Osaka in 2018, Williams threatened to overshadow her opponent’s first Slam win by unleashing a hideous torrent of abuse at the umpire; on this occasion, Eva Asderaki.
In the second game of the second set, Asderaki reversed a point by slapping Williams with a hindrance call, after she yelled “C’mon” in celebration just before Stosur failed to return a forehand. It handed the Aussie a break and Williams exploded.
“Aren’t you the one who screwed me over last time? Are you coming after me? That is totally not cool,” she ranted at the umpire.
It only got worse at the next change of ends: “Don’t even look at me, You’re a hater. You’re very unattractive inside. I never complain. Who would do such a thing? You’re punishing me for expressing my emotion.”
Stosur held her nerve and became the first Australian woman to win a Slam for 31 years; since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980. Williams at least had the grace to say of the docked point: “It wouldn’t have mattered in the end. Sam played really well.”
But aside from that New York triumph, there’s a reason why Barty name-dropped Stosur at the French Open. Stosur beat Williams there, too, and it wasn’t even the most impressive thing she did during that tournament.
It was Roland Garros 2010 and Stosur was about to go on a run. Her opening match was a trivia special: she beat 2018 French Open winner and future world No.1 Simona Halep in her first-ever Grand Slam match.
Then in the fourth round, she did something extraordinary against Justine Henin, the four-time champion in Paris. Henin, in her comeback season after retiring as world No.1 in 2008, was coming off an Australian Open final appearance and boasted a 24-match winning streak at the French Open.
Stosur beat the Belgian legend from a set down, 2-6 6-1 6-4. She then beat No.1 seed Williams in the quarter-finals over three sets, saving a match point to prevail 6-2 6-7 (2-7) 8-6.
After beating former world No.1 Jelena Jankovic 6-1 6-2 in the semis, Stosur was a raging-hot favourite for the final. Her heavily top-spun serve and forehand were working beautifully and the other side of the draw had somehow tossed-up Francesca Schiavone, the Italian 17th seed, as her opponent. Both players were contesting their first Slam final.
Schiavone won 6-4 7-6 (7-2). She became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles event and although she played wonderfully, it was the one that got away for Stosur. Only diehard tennis fans will remember that she played the tournament of her life before losing the final.
Incidentally, Stosur won her first WTA title against Schiavone, in the 2009 HP Open in Osaka. She no doubt would have happily swapped trophies.
In all, Stosur has won nine WTA singles titles, with a career-best ranking of world No.4. She’s also won 26 WTA doubles titles and has six Grand Slam doubles championships that span all four majors; three women’s, three mixed. She’s been a world No.1 doubles player.
Stosur’s legacy suffers due to her shortcomings at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. She never did better than the fourth round at Melbourne Park and never bettered the third round at the All England Club.
But Barty was right: Stosur’s French Open record is stellar. She made the semi-finals in 2009 as the 30th seed, losing in three sets to champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. She made the semis again in 2012 and 2016, losing to finalist Sara Errani and champion Garbine Muguruza respectively.
“It’s a special place for Australian players. Obviously Sam has done so well here in the past and she’s been so close before,” Barty said in her victory speech, having followed and bettered Stosur’s path by becoming Australia’s first French Open champion for 46 years.
“I’m incredibly proud of what I’ve been able to achieve. It’s just been a magical two weeks.”
Tennis people who knew exactly what Barty meant appreciated the call-out.
It remains to be seen how Stosur is remembered; near-misses don’t age generously. And at age 35, she is near the end of her career.
But never forget this.
One day in New York, in front of 23,000 fans, the Australian took on arguably the Greatest Of All Time … and she won like a true champion.
And in a way, it was all the more impressive for having lost when she should’ve won at Roland Garros the previous year.