Home » ‘Go with your gut’: Phone call Aussie great didn’t want to make amid dilemma in new, key role

‘Go with your gut’: Phone call Aussie great didn’t want to make amid dilemma in new, key role

‘Go with your gut’: Phone call Aussie great didn’t want to make amid dilemma in new, key role

As Sam Stosur considered a selection squeeze ahead of her first tie as Australia’s Billie Jean King Cup captain in Brisbane, she resisted the temptation to reach for the phone.

After featuring in the Australian team as a player for two decades, she has assumed the leadership role from her former teammate Alicia Molik, who ended her 10-year reign as skipper last year.

The 40-year-old’s first goal is to ensure Australia qualifies for the BJK Cup finals, to be held in Spain in November, which requires a victory over Mexico in Brisbane in a tie beginning Friday.

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Stosur has brought Arina Rodionova back into the fold after the veteran fired a broadside at Tennis Australia in January when snubbed for an Australian Open wildcard and initially preferred her to Dasha Saville, who has recently returned to the top 100 for a singles spot.

But when Storm Hunter, who Stosur described as the team leader in an interview with foxsports.com.au earlier this week, injured herself in a training session on Thursday afternoon, Saville was immediately elevated in her place.

The undisclosed injury to Hunter, a champion doubles player who was close to breaking into the top 100 in singles, is a blow and Stosur said the Australian camp was rallying behind her.

“Storm went to take off for a ball and unfortunately has sustained a very serious injury, so she’s going to be getting an MRI tonight,” Stosur said.

“Obviously the tie still continues and we’ve made a decision. Dasha’s going to go in place of her to play tomorrow, but obviously we’re all rallying behind Storm and wishing her the very, very best and the quickest recovery possible.”

The situation that unfolded on the eve of the tie being held at Pat Rafter Arena is an example of the challenges the Aussie great will face in her new role in tennis.

As she was assessing Australia’s options this week ahead of her debut as BJK Cup captain, Stosur said she considered whether to tap into a network including Molik and her former coach David Taylor, who is in Brisbane this week coaching emerging teenager Emerson Jones.

But ultimately the 2011 US Open champion decided that after being appointed to the prized role, she had the imprimatur to put her stamp on the Australian women’s team.

“(David and I) actually spoke a lot a few months ago about it and then Alicia, we actually texted this (week),” she told foxsports.com.au.

“I was thinking about whether to call ‘Mol’ and ask a bunch of different things … but I kind of want to feel it out and try to put my own tinge on it.

“I can’t replicate everything Alicia did. She did a phenomenal job and she did it her way. I obviously want to do the same … but I want to feel like I can try it my way, whatever that may be, and not feel like ‘Oh geez, I’ve got to make that exactly the way Alicia did it’.

“I’ve got my ideas and how I want to go about things. But … if I need to call Alicia or Dave, I know that they’d be more than happy to help me out in a scenario. It’s a tricky one, because you don’t want to try to be someone you’re not, either.”

Since Stosur’s retirement after a career which also saw her claim grand slam doubles titles at the Australian Open, Roland Garros and in New York, along with two mixed championships at Wimbledon and another in Melbourne, the former world No.4 has maintained her fitness.

Stosur still loves hitting tennis balls but said that unless the team was desperate for a practice partner, she would leave the competitive training sessions to those in the team.

The former Roland Garros finalist is adapting to the differences that come with leading a team in an off-court role, saying there is a significant change in preparation.

The Melbourne-based Stosur said that as a player leading into ties, she worked with and around her teammates but that ultimately the responsibility for peaking relied on her.

As the captain, she is trying to balance the needs of the team as a whole to ensure that they are as well prepared as possible to succeed.

“You have got to feel it out with five different people, some you know really well, some you don’t know so well. You want to make sure you are getting touch time with all of them so that you are supporting them as best you can,” she said.

“Obviously we have other coaches and people around as well. But being the captain, you try to do everything you can for each person and you feel responsible for the outcome.

“So it’s a different pressure. But (it is) the same sort of butterflies in your tummy, as though you are going out to play again, but you are not the one hitting the ball this time.

“I am taking it very seriously. It is a lot of responsibility, so I am trying to cover everything as best as you can.”

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 11: Team Australia Daria Saville, Arina Rodionova, Storm Hunter, Ellen Perez, Taylah Preston and Captain Sam Stosur pose after the Official Draw at Howard Smith Wharves ahead of the Billie Jean King Cup tie between Australia and Mexico at Pat Rafter Arena on April 11, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

The retirement of Ash Barty in 2022 and the absence of Ajla Tomljanovic for the majority of 2023 due to injury led to a sharp decline in Australian women competing on the WTA Tour.

But Saville has recently returned to the top 100 in her comeback from a second knee reconstruction to ensure she will compete at Roland Garros, while Rodionova could yet secure direct entry to the French Open should withdrawals work in her favour.

This would open the path for Tennis Australia to use a reciprocal wildcard on another player, with recent doubles world No.1 Hunter edging closer to breaking into the top 100 in singles. But her immediate fitness is in doubt after the injury she suffered on Thursday.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 11: Team Australia Daria Saville, Arina Rodionova, Storm Hunter, Ellen Perez, Taylah Preston and Captain Sam Stosur pose with Team Mexico, Marcela Zacarias, Giuliana Olmos, Fernanda Contreras, Fernanda Navarro, Jessica Hinojosa Gomez and Captain Agustin Moreno exchange gifts during the Official Draw at Howard Smith Wharves ahead of the Billie Jean King Cup tie between Australia and Mexico at Pat Rafter Arena on April 11, 2024 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Stosur praised Saville, who will play Marcela Zacarias following Rodionova’s opening clash against Giuliana Olmos, for her ability to rebound from adversity. The Australian, whose career high ranking is 20, has endured two knee reconstructions and also overcome a serious Achilles tendon and foot issue to continue her career into her 30s.

“Dasha is a very, very good tennis player and where she once was at 20 or whatever her highest ranking, I truly believe she can get back there,” Stosur said.

“It was just a matter of time before she got herself back to the top 100 and now that some of that feeling of ‘I’ve got to get back there again’ can kind of be alleviated, she can just go out and play again and do what she does best.

“I’m not surprised she’s back there already. I mean, both times she’s come back, she’s got back there pretty quick in all respects, especially the other previous recovery. I’m really proud of her efforts to get back now.”