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De Minaur ramps up as Stosur winds down

  • Matt Trollope

Two popular Australian stars find themselves at vastly different junctures of their respective careers on the eve of Australian Open 2022.

For Aussie men's No.1 Alex de Minaur, 22, this year's tournament is an opportunity to capitalise on the confidence he has rediscovered and momentum he has built as he looks to go beyond the third round for the first time.

For 37-year-old Sam Stosur, who for nearly nine uninterrupted years was Australia's No.1 female player, it is a chance to farewell her many fans as she makes one last appearance in the singles arena.

De Minaur began the year brightly at the ATP Cup, winning two of his three singles matches – including an upset of top-10 star Matteo Berrettini.

MORE: AO 2022 men's singles draw

The former world No.15, now ranked 34th, opens his AO 2022 campaign against Lorenzo Musetti feeling like he has reset after a challenging 2021 season.

"It's no secret that last year I had a little bit of a slump after COVID," said De Minaur, who was forced to miss the Tokyo Olympics because of it. 

De Minaur is finding his feet after a frustrating 2021

"Didn't have the results I wanted to. Confidence-wise I was a bit low.

"I felt as soon as I was able to kind of put that year behind me, even (at) Davis Cup (in November), I was able to really turn a corner both mentality-wise and kind of confidence-wise. I was able to have two battles out there. 

"I was able to bring out a part of me that I had forgotten about for a while."

That "part" is the one that saw De Minaur record some notable results prior to the pandemic.

In 2019 he finished in the top 20 after winning three ATP titles – including his first on home soil at the Sydney International – and in 2020 he posted his best Grand Slam result by reaching the quarterfinals of the US Open.

He peaked at No.15 midway through 2021 but not long after endured the slump he referenced, winning just five of his last 17 matches of the season. 

But the energy he felt at Davis Cup, coupled with a tough, productive pre-season, has the young Aussie feeling back on track.

"It's just great to see the hard work paying off at the ATP Cup, coming out and playing some great tennis against quality opponents, starting off my Aussie summer very well," De Minaur said on Saturday.

"It's a very good feeling, a very good confidence boost coming into the Open."

Stosur endured a similar experience to De Minaur in 2021, slumping through nine straight losses after her first-round win over Destanee Aiava at the Australian Open.

MORE: AO 2022 women's singles draw

It was especially frustrating given how much effort she was putting in on the practice court, but perhaps signified the time was right to end the singles chapter of her storied career. 

"Last year was pretty hard feeling like I'm still training, still got that desire, still got everything that you had five years ago, but you're not getting the reward for it. That was not easy for sure," admitted the 2011 US Open champion.

"Again, I still feel like I can go out there and play well. I played with (world No.8) Iga (Swiatek) yesterday and felt great. I'm thinking, 'Geez, still able to come out here and play practice sets and matches with someone in the top 10'.

"No doubt as you become older, it certainly becomes harder to back that up."

Making Stosur's time on tour more enjoyable last year was the fact that, in parallel with her singles losses, she enjoyed incredible doubles results.

She and Chinese partner Zhang Shuai – who won the AO 2019 doubles title – went back-to-back in Cincinnati and the US Open, the latter victory delivering Stosur a fourth major doubles title. 

It perhaps also ensured she was more at peace with her decision to end her singles career, which she will try to prolong just a little longer when she faces fellow wildcard Robin Anderson in round one.

"I feel like since I made that decision, (on) 3 December, that was way worse than what it feels like now," Stosur said.

"(Before it was) not knowing, one day thinking this, one day thinking that, not being able to decide.

"I remember calling 'Stubbsy' (coach Rennae Stubbs) one day. She's like, 'All right, what are you doing today?' Having a laugh about it. 

"Actually once I made the decision, then I felt really good about it."

Stosur is at ease with her decision to call time on her Grand Slam singles career

One player who will miss Stosur is Ash Barty, who has since taken the reins as Australia's top player and gone on to become the world's best.

Like Stosur, Barty tasted ultimate success with a Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros in 2019, and earned another at Wimbledon last year.

"I love watching Sam. I love being around Sam," Barty said on Saturday.

"I remember the first time I hit with Sam, it was here at Melbourne Park. We hit on Show Court 3. I've been extremely lucky to share some really cool moments over my career with her, and her career as well. 

"More than that, she's created and paved this path for so many of the Australian youth to come through and be guided by her in a positive way. 

"She is our champion. She is going to be very missed."