Sam Stosur: Is she not pretty enough?

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.

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.

About Phillip Dimitriadis

Carer/Teacher/Writer. Author of Fandemic: Travels in Footy Mythology. World view influenced by Johnny Cash, Krishnamurti, Larry David, Toni Morrison and Billy Picken.


  1. It’s a fair question Phil which you’ve answered comprehensively.

    Whilst not Australian, I’d compare Stosur to Justine Henin – 43 singles titles including 7 Grand Slams but similarly under-celebrated and quickly forgotten because she just went about her business without the headline-grabbing or front page photo-worthy magnetism of certain others.

    I think it’s a reflection on women’s sports that find themselves in this catch 22 of how to effectively market themselves and bring in the dollars without going down the glamour road. And it pervades other streams of entertainment as well – I mean every female cop, lawyer or scientist on TV dramas is also coincidentally blessed with supermodel looks!

    Tennis is now as much another drama show as a sport. And unfortunately the Aussie offering pales in comparison to the US and European versions.

  2. Phil – I think she is admired by the public. A lot. Her problem is that she doesn’t give the media anything. She hasn’t dated Shane Warne, advertised the latest magical 14 day diet, released a swim suit range, or dated a Hollywood hunk. She’s just way too interesting to write about in the mainstream media.

    What she should do is read that horrible rag called “Sunday Life”, which comes with the equally horrible rag called the Sunday Age, to get some ideas for an article entitled “What I Know About Men” and she’d be a huge hit.

  3. How about not failing miserably in Round 1 of Grand Slam Tournaments, surely that would give the media something to write about wouldn’t it? After all, she is a tennis player isn’t she?

    And as for requiring super model good looks to make the headlines in the off-season – and surely we’re talking about getting media coverage when there’s not a tournament in town – may I present exhibits A & B – The Williams Sisters.

    I’d be pretty confident in saying that it’s not bothering Sam too much. I’ll bet my bottom drachma the only headlines she’s seeking are Slammin Sammy Shines at Wimbledon/Roland Garros/Rod Laver Arena.

  4. Thoughtful piece Phil, but I find myself disagreeing with your fundamental premise.
    I like and admire SS a lot, as I think do most Australians. And I find her very sexy (hope AE is not ready this) in a natural, un-tarty athletic way (much as AE is, phew).
    Her ‘problem’ is that she is just so frustratingly ALMOST. Is it mental or is it physical or is it tactical? At different times it has seemed one, but then she conquers that and the other returns.
    None of these are perfect metaphors – but the competitors that most come to mind when I think of Sam are Lets Elope; David Hookes and Phil Carman.
    Lets Elope had an Amazonian physique but could not go a yard if there had been 2mm of rain in the preceding week. She also had physical problems that made her prone to breakdowns, and ended up in the US on Lasix as a recurrent ‘bleeder’.
    Which leads me to David Hookes – enormously talented. Flat track bully with poor footwork (Sam’s problem as quick feet are critical for tennis?) Was Hookes unlucky with injury at key times in his career, or was it just that he had huge strengths but also big flaws that skilled opponents exploited (hello Sam).
    Phil Carman was the closest I could think of an ALMOST champion in footy. Almost Brownlow/Magarey/premership flags. Found a way to implode whenever greatness beckoned.
    We think fondly of all three for their achievements and good nature; but we will always think ‘what might have been’.
    Steffi is a great role model, but Sam lacks the will and self belief that accompanied Steffi’s talent.
    You like someone because; you love someone despite.
    I love watching Sam, but jeez she can sometimes be hard to like.

  5. Maybe tennis has lost its tarnish. Aussies gloated when 0.1% of the world played on lawn but now enjoy a night out at the Australian Open or a perv on the outside courts…until a prototype wins a home Open or Wimpydon. Cable TV shows the best of the best and tennis struggles to meet the standard.

  6. …and Peter, “Fabulous” was a champ.

  7. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    I love the fact that she is so down to earth and unpretentious in her manner. PB, When I refer to sexiness, I mean the way it is framed by most popular media ie, the Sharapova, Azarenka stereotypes as the alpha glamazons. I promise I won’t say anything to AE!

    JD, Henin is a great choice as a subversive type. She has to be one of the best that has played yet until you reminded me, I’d forgetten about her. Power of the media should never be underestimated eh?

    Dips, I don’t know if enough people know her well enough to respect her and this is where I think the media has a great opportunity. Tying this into the Wraps, argument: How do you measure her success? How many Gold medals is a Grand Slam title and a runner up worth? Especially, when you consider the dearth of Australian female champs since 1980.

    I just finished reading Golden Boy and perhaps the career of Kim Hughes got me thinking about Sam. Why do we get so frustrated with some while we tend to be more tolerant of others? How would Shane Watson have fared playing with the Chappell’s , Lillee and Marsh? I reckon he would have copped plenty of stick.

    I’ve always viewed Sam as a battler who has fought hard to iron out her deficiences. She has been on the circuit for 15 years and has been in or around the top 10 in the last 5. In the context of Australian tennis’ recent history, that is a brilliant effort.

  8. Crio – I saw a lot of Fabulous Phil in both SA and Victoria. He was one of the best ever on his day, but these were inconsistent and he often ‘went missing’ at the most inopportune times.
    Whether this was bad luck, bad management or a personal flaw I can’t say, but it leaves me judging him well below Robran, Blight, Bradley, Ebert, Kernahan on my SA footy champs assessment. Carman had more ability the equal of Robran and Blight, and more than the others – but his output to input ratio was 50% what the others achieved.
    As a bookie you know you don’t pay out on unlucky placegetters. Phil was always a ‘be on me next time’ type.

  9. we’ll agree to disagree…Blighty is the only one I’d concede but that’s not part of this chat

  10. Malcolm Ashwood says

    In relation to Sam Stosur , I think we all want our sports people to make the most of there natural ability in Sams, case she has a poor record in her career when favorite and seems to need to be underdog to reach the top more than suggesting a mental weakness .
    In relation to above re Fabulous Phil , he would have won the Brownlow , in his 1st VFL , season if not for breaking his ankle in a state game . Carman , is the only player I rank the equal of Robran , ability wise and the big occasion never bothered him unfortunately white line fever and his lack of mental toughness in so so easily getting sucked in stopped him from reaching the level he should have .

  11. I once loved tennis, and played it often.
    But, at the elite level, I now find it boring, predictable and bloated.
    I get the feeling that I am not alone in this…as a nation we just don’t care as much about tennis anymore. The brief January circus only serves as a yearly circuit-breaker in a never-ending calendar of apathy?
    Maybe this part of the issue when it comes to Sam Stosur: is it because people just don’t care about her sport?
    Another issue may be that she is not just feminine enough. But this is not the place to go into that….

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Where there’s Smokie, there’s fire. It is very much about what we construe as feminine Smoke. Who decides?

  13. Correct Phil. Who does decide?
    I am no expert on this, but there is definitely a notion of femininity that is continually pushed at us. For example, witness the debate over “skinny” v “plus-size” models, which is only one aspect of this whole debate.
    In the past, womens’ tennis has been a little guilty of this also. I am sure the WTA was only too happy to promote Kournakova, because she dragged blokes through the gate despite never having won a tournament.

  14. Phil

    SS’s name doesn’t end in an “ic”
    SS’s father isn’t batshit crazy
    SS doesn’t spruik undies
    SS doesn’t have “a brand”
    SS’s best is great
    SS’s worst is shitful
    SS’s focus is on tennis not twitter
    SS’ has not selfies of her bum
    SS does not “do media”

    No media No recognition

    Good read PD


  15. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Beautifully summarized TR. Turns out SS does have a website. Understated and very classy:

  16. michele from France says

    We are always unfair to our athletes unless they are number one in the world !
    Can you imagine more unfairness than the recognition we, french people had for Marion Bartoli ! she didn’t have a sponsor before 2 years ago ! ! and she was our number one and among the 15 best women tennis players in the world !!! (she ended ranked 7)
    As for Sam Stosur, she is probably more popular abroad than she is in her own country ! She has support wherever she goes probably for some reasons ! “Allez Samantha, gagne Roland Garros ! ” French people will appreciate !

  17. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Hi Michele,
    The way Marion Bartoli was treated by much of the media was appalling. Instead of praising her wonderful achievement, they seemed to be more interested in her looks and her weight. I’m afraid far too many people are becoming image instituted by the constant barrage of so-called ideal types perpetuated in mainstream and social media. I was lucky enough to see Amelie Mauresmo play at the Australian Open back in 2009. My daughter and I enjoyed watching her skill, power and athleticism. Alas, she was another who didn’t get enough kudos compared to the ‘pretty girls’. Hope this changes very soon. Merci :)

  18. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Sam got through to round 2, without fuss or fanfare. Hope you go all the way in 2015 girl!!

  19. Top article Phil, as are the thought provoking comments & Kasey Chamber’s song.
    I admire Samantha, the Panther’s, skill, dedication, power, toughness & modesty.
    We all want her to win each time she plays but our expectations can be over demanding.
    It can’t be easy at that level. The mental side needs equal good management.
    To quote from Rod Laver’s Memoir:
    ” What I loved was the satisfaction of hitting the ball sweetly, the running to ram home a point or save one, the one-on-one combative nature of the game, facing up to an opponent & testing yourself against him. I think only boxing is as confrontational. There is a kinship between the two sports. You have two people facing each other in a confined space, probing for weakness and attacking it.
    Tennis players and boxers need footwork,timing and stamina”.

  20. Have you still got the porch light on for Harold Holt, Phil?

  21. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Watched the first set and then switched over to the soccer to witness Tim Cahill’s heroics.
    Sam was very disappointing in that she couldn’t find the aggression to match her power game. Don’t know about the porch light for HH, but no other Australian women’s player can hold a candle to Sam’s record, which says a great deal about the state of Australian women’s tennis over the last 30 odd years. Do we expect too much when you put the records of others next to hers?

  22. Lord Bogan, I’m a fan of SS, but the reality appears to be that we’ve seen her best. I would argue that she definitely managed to get the best out of her abilities and as Tony Robb mentioned in his comment; her best is great, but at Slams, anything less than your best, and you get shown the door. Too often she’s not at her best in January.

    I can’t shake the thought that she abhors the attention she gets at the Australian Open, either. She’s never looked entirely comfortable as opposed to when she’s on the court at Wimbledon, Roland Garros or Flushing Meadow…

    Having said that, if she’s ever ready to ‘change teams’ as Elaine and Jerry once argued in a Seinfeld episode, I’ll be here, wrestling with you and PB for front spot in the marking contest for Sam Stosur’s affections.

  23. Speaking of Seinfeld, do you think Coco (name sounds likely) might be Art Vandeweghe’s daughter?

  24. Seriously i don’t care if Sam Stosur is pretty enough or not. Without doubt our best home grown female player in the last 35 years, the only Grand Slam winner since 1980, but her performances back home have been terrible. Finding new ways to lose, often to players,. who are so far below her ability wise, it becomes tedious. To get to the point of my posting, when was the last time she got past the second round in either Melbourne or Sydney ?

  25. Malcolm Ashwood says

    The footballing equivalent to Sam Stosur IMO is Troy Chaplin like Sam at the Aust open he has a terrible record in big games and key moments both lack mental toughness

  26. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Conversion Bakes? Like George I’ve been known to send them there, but bringing them back? ‘ The Beard’ is such a great episode.

    I think if you told Sam that she’d walk away from her career with a US Open title. French Runner Up and a couple of Doubles crowns, she would, like most of us, take it. Perhaps feeling awkward about her sexuality has contributed to her being unable to relax when playing at home. Australia can still be backwater in that respect when it comes to elite sport.

  27. In terms of managing a competition I’m really there.

Leave a Comment