Sam Stosur is the most successful Australian female tennis player since Evonne Goolagong-Cawley. In the sports-mad media in this country, Sam’s achievements have been comparatively ignored and viewed through a filter of underachievement and unfulfilled potential. Why?
If Sam was sexier she would be one of the pin-up girls of Australian sport. What is sexy? Do you need perky breasts, Vitamin E enriched skin, long golden blonde hair, a bubble butt? Do you need to pose in a bikini and show an effervescent smile and playful demeanour in order to be seen as a success?
Do you need to be witty, twitter savvy, tattooed in the right places, attend the right events with the right people at the right time? You won’t see Sam promoting herself at the Spring Carnival. She’ll be representing Australia in some far-flung part of the world and trying to maintain or better her top 10 ranking.
This week she was runner-up in the Kremlin Cup. The media narrative was generally one of failure, of missed opportunity, of not being worthy enough or good enough. That’s okay. Sam has broad shoulders and iron will. Maybe she doesn’t care about the kudos and the sycophants. Maybe that’s why I like her as a role model for young Australian sportspeople.
I don’t follow tennis much. Occasionally I’ll watch the odd set or two at the Australian Open because it’s too damn hot to go out at that time of year. Once in a while a match at Wimbledon might engage me for an hour. In the early days I didn’t rate Sam Stosur. She always seemed to be getting bundled out in the second round and I’d take to calling her ‘Second Round Stosur’. She seemed like another one of the plethora of Australian women tennis players who come and go without much fanfare.
Sam kept hanging in, playing more tournaments, improving her game and her temperament and getting results against the big names. Perhaps this media-shy Queenslander of Polish descent had something to offer Australian sport after all. You wouldn’t think so if you relied on the popular media.
When she defeated Serena Williams at the 2011 US Open she became the first Australian female to win a Grand Slam title since 1980. Thirty-one years. It wasn’t just the magnitude of the achievement, but the way that Sam went about it that deserved praise and wider recognition. She beat arguably the best female tennis player of the last twenty years. Serena had a nasty meltdown during this match, abusing the umpire and a linesperson, threatening to kill and maim because a point or two didn’t go her way. At the other end stood Sam; serene in the true sense of the word, stoic, patient, graceful and unflappable. She thrashed Williams 6-2 6-3 and wrote her name in the history books, never again to be forgotten.
The media stirred more than usual. They finally had an Australian Grand Slam winner to faun over and a few ripples of nationalistic pride followed the victory. Sam was gracious, proud , but pensive about the sudden interest in her success. The media soon turned away, still looking for a darling that could grace the social pages, sell calendars, move merchandise and provide cutsie-pie quotability. They didn’t find that in Sam.
Steely blue eyes, chiselled muscle, sunburnt skin, chaffed lips and a grim determination to improve gradually is countered by a vulnerability, a yearning to be loved and to have fun with friends and family. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57kS7PuGI_8
She values her health and the freedom to do the things she loves. Steffi Graf was her role model and that doesn’t come as a surprise. Steffi wasn’t a pin up girl either, but I can’t think of a tennis player, male or female, who is more respected and admired for her grace, skill and power. Sam is no Steffi Graf, but in the modern history of Australian women’s tennis, she ranks as the best player after Margaret Court and Evonne Goolagong. When you think of all the false dawns of the players that have followed the great Goolagong, Sam Stosur’s legacy is massive in context.
I hope Sam can win another Grand Slam, hopefully an Australian Open, before she retires. Maybe then the Australian sporting public will appreciate a talent that has for too long been ignored and undervalued by the sporting media in this country.
Sam Stosur is wonderful role model for all young Australian female athletes.