The fact that Sam Stosur does not experience the same feelings when she first passes through the iron gates of the All England Club as she does during her annual expedition to Roland Garros is not to say that her least-successful grand slam does not hold some happy memories. Three times a doubles finalist, and twice a champion in the mixed, two of Stosur’s best three Wimbledon singles results have come in the past three years.
Never, though, has she passed the third round, which is evidence of how much more difficult Australia’s highest-ranked player has found the grasscourt major than the clay – or US hardcourt – varieties. In Paris, for example, her recent, career-reviving run to a fourth French Open semi-final has also restored Stosur to the relative comfort of the top 20, and a top-16 seeding next week on the south-west London lawns.
“For whatever reason it hasn’t quite happened [for me] at Wimbledon, but I don’t think it’s been a disaster by any means,” says Stosur, who limited her preparation to the traditional lead-up week at Eastbourne – the scene of, historically, her best results on grass, but this time a 6-2, 6-1 thrashing from Caroline Wozniacki.
“I just find it harder. And that’s just the way it is. Unfortunately it happens at a really big tournament where Australia’s had a great history, and there’s a lot of emphasis on Wimbledon. So it’s easy to kind of get hung-up and think things have been a lot worse than maybe what they are.”
Still, the silver lining in the clouds that so often hover over Wimbledon during the famous fortnight is that, at least relatively, expectations are low. From an Australian perspective, most eyes – including the bleary ones conducting late-night TV vigils a hemisphere away – will be trained on former quarter-finalists Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic. Which suits Stosur perfectly well.
If only the grass did. The lower bounce does not help her topspin-heavy game, or the wide kick serve with which she likes to set up points for her big forehands to finish off. She has struggled with her movement at times, too, and admits she erred tactically in her early visits by trying to depart too radically from her natural game.
“I don’t serve and volley, really, any other time of the year, and I think I kind of got hung up on trying to do certain things too much that I’m just not as comfortable with,” Stosur says. “Then all of a sudden you’re on a surface that you’re a little more uncomfortable with, trying to play a game style that you’re not quite sure of, and then you end up having some early losses.
“I think as I’ve got older and further along in my career I’ve realised that ‘you know what, you’ve still got to play the way you play well, no matter what surface you’re on’ and I think I’ve been able to have that mentality a lot better the last few years so I want to kind of continue along that line and just really try and enjoy these next couple of weeks.
“It’s really such a short stint of the year, and I’d love to get to the fourth round and get my best results. I think it’s definitely achievable but I’ve almost got to be extra focused and I guess committed to doing certain things maybe a little bit more than even other surfaces, because I can’t do certain things that come very easily, say, on the clay.”
One upside should be the sliced backhand she used to such good effect during a French Open run halted only by eventual champion Garbine Muguruza. Stosur points out that not only is it not something everyone possesses, but nor do opponents necessarily deal with it well. She plans to use it, but not overdo it, mix it into her game, and vary the pace and depth to help gain control of points and, thus, play the way she likes to.
The kick serve, though, she laughingly describes as “a bit irrelevant” on grass, even if her experiences at the pointy end of the doubles and mixed draws has made her aware it can be more useful later in the tournament. “As the court gets older and more worn out it gets harder if there’s a lot of sunshine, so then you can start incorporating it.
“To me it’s a lot harder to play at Wimbledon the first few days when the grass is super green, it’s a bit longer, and it’s harder to move because it’s more slippery, and unfortunately that’s when something like the kick serve can kind of just check-up a little bit; it doesn’t get the height, obviously, so I may have to hit a few more sliced second serves than what I normally would and try and keep the ball a little bit lower.
“But I think if I can get through that early part where it is a little more difficult, so many times by the end of the tournament when I’ve been playing doubles, I’m playing exactly how I want and everything feels fantastic. But you’ve got to get to that point!”
Trialling a new coach, Fed Cup hitting partner Andrew Roberts, since her long association with David Taylor ended this month, Stosur sneaked back to Australia for eight or nine days after Paris, where she rated her wins over nemesis Lucie Safarova and sixth seed Simona Halep as two of her best matches “for a very long time”.
So next is Wimbledon, another nemesis of sorts. Walking back in to where she has a 10-13 career singles record is not like returning to Roland Garros, where she was the 2012 runner-up, but nor is that necessarily a bad thing. “I still love getting to Wimbledon and it’s got a different feel to it,” says Stosur. “It is exciting and all of that, but I guess I haven’t got the fantastic memories from the singles matches there as I do at Roland Garros.
“But then also if you look at it another way I guess at Roland Garros I really feel like I should be able to do well, and have a result like I did a couple of weeks ago, whereas I’m not walking into Wimbledon thinking ‘oh, far out, I have to make semis or I’m not going to be happy with my results’. I can almost be a little bit more relaxed at Wimbledon in some ways, and just enjoy being there.
“It’s just a couple of tournaments for me for the year on grass, and it’s a bit of a novelty in some ways, but it’s certainly somewhere where I do feel I can play well. Really, there’s no real pressure on me to do great on this surface, it’s just ‘see where you can get to’.”