Not too late for Stosur to shine at home slam
Sam Stosur would ring home every day - sometimes two or three times. Always reverse charges.
She was 15, travelling and playing tournaments in Europe and questioning whether tennis was really for her.
"I must have won 50 bucks in a satellite tournament here in Australia at the end of the year, so that then registers me as turning 'pro'," she said this week.
"I certainly was not a professional then.
"To think that was 21 years ago that I did that junior trip, calling home so many times, sometimes two or three times a day, reverse charges back then.
"I was out of my depth, never seen a clay court before, didn't win a match for five or six weeks. I thought I hated it."
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It's a trip that still gets talked about among those who went on it, with the conversation often surrounding just how they pushed through.
"We look back and think 'oh my god, how did we survive'," she laughs.
"I was 15, they were all 17 or 18. We did 10 weeks in Europe - I'd never been away that long in my life.
"I know mum and dad remember it like yesterday and I can only imagine how much the phone bill was."
That unhappiness she felt has transformed to what Stosur - who marked her actual 21st with a road trip from Miami via an underwhelming Daytona Beach with former player Bryanne Stewart - is determined to ensure is a happy 21st this year.
Her pre-season began on December 2 and proved intense - arguably the favourite period of the year for the self-confessed organisation freak who'd be "No. 1 in the world" if you could be "a professional practiser" - under the guidance of Rennae Stubbs.
She recently returned to Queensland for a week's break, which included her brother's wedding, before a tilt at Hobart and to Melbourne Park for her 18th Australian Open.
Time has flown.
It hasn't always been easy, Stosur admits.
But her "absolute" love for tennis has remained and she is adamant this year will be for her - not for obligations or routine.
"The more you do it, the more you realise you definitely play better in the places you like being at," the 35-year-old said.
"That probably goes along with anything and anyone.
"(In 2019) I did a 14-week trip through Europe and I was cactus by the end. I realised, 'jeez, that was a long time'. And it really took its toll afterwards, as well … I was like, OK, learn from that. You're 35, you don't need to be away for 14 weeks.
"I just really want to enjoy being away. And if that means going away and coming home more, and being really prepared and training for the tournaments that I want to play, then that's what I'm going to do.
"It's not about 'you should do this' or 'I've got to do that because of ranking' or 'I did that last year, it's what I've always done'. I don't feel like I need to do that anymore."
So much is made of Stosur's performance on home soil.
When Stosur was recently recognised at the Newcombe Medal with the Spirit of Tennis award, her former coach David Taylor made a strong point.
Taylor, who coached Stosur for eight years including to the 2011 US Open, said he had only one wish for the Queenslander this summer.
"I really wish only one more thing for her, and that's that the Australian public see her in full flight," he said.
"Sam has impressed Parisian crowds so many times in big matches, she's impressed and beat the greatest player of all time in New York and … I think Sam deserves to get one final big moment in Australia."
It's a sentiment shared by Stosur, who has twice made the fourth round at the year's opening grand slam.
"I'd love to have a really good summer," she said.
"And if things came together at the AO, that's icing on the cake.
"It is a bit of a shame that they haven't really come in your own country, when the spotlight's on the sport, and everything else. But it doesn't mean it's anything less because it's happened in Europe or in the States instead. It's just not front and centre.
"I'd love to walk off these courts here in whatever round and be super pleased with that and think it was a great result and I've played well and be able to have the feeling here that I've had in other places."