Two Women Who Stuck With It Win Aussie Doubles Crown
MELBOURNE, Australia — There’s no rewinding the results in sports, as New Orleans fans still fuming about last week’s N.F.C. Championship game can attest. But sometimes, as Sam Stosur proved Friday at the Australian Open, it is possible to get it right the second time.
In 2006, Stosur, a Queenslander playing in the women’s doubles final in her home Grand Slam, lost her service while attempting to close out the match in the second set. Stosur and her doubles partner, Lisa Raymond, squandered two championship points on their way to a three-set defeat to the Chinese team of Yan Zi and Zheng Jie.
Thirteen years later, Stosur was back in the women’s doubles final, this time alongside China’s Zhang Shuai. They were playing the defending champions, Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic, and again Stosur was serving in the second set to close out the match.
Stosur earned a championship point, which she squandered with a double fault. But the past doesn’t have to be prologue. On the next point, Stosur produced an overhead winner to end a 25-shot rally. Then she watched the 13th shot of the next point sail long, near her feet, to seal her 6-3, 6-4 victory with Zhang at Rod Laver Arena.
It was sweet redemption for Stosur, not only because of her near miss in 2006 but also because of all her quick exits here in the singles competition. Since defeating Serena Williams in the final to win the 2011 United States Open, Stosur, 34, has exited in the first round in singles in this tournament five times, including the past four years.
Stosur held her head high after her latest opening-round defeat, last week in straight sets to Dayana Yastremska, an 18-year-old from Ukraine, of whom she said, “I think she’s going to be a very good player.”
Stosur, who won the mixed doubles here in 2005 with Scott Draper, immediately turned her attention to the women’s doubles. “I think probably for any singles player, playing doubles can almost feel more relaxing or more fun,” she said.
In Zhang, Stosur found a partner whose wit is as sharp as her net play. She kept Stosur loose — and occasionally made her laugh out loud — with her on-court comments. “If we could transfer that a little bit into the singles court, that would be a good thing,” Stosur said.
Zhang, 30, had exited in the first round in singles in all 14 majors she had played and was contemplating retirement in early 2016 when Stosur sent her a long and passionate text encouraging her to continue playing. Zhang then advanced to the quarterfinals in singles at the 2016 Australian Open as a qualifier — still her best finish in singles in a major — and now, on the strength of Stosur’s powers of persuasion, she can call herself a Grand Slam champion.
“Really important message,” Zhang said, smiling, of Stosur’s long-ago text.
These two weeks, Zhang added, have been the most “amazing in my life.”
Stosur said she had been in communication with Raymond, who told her the other night in a text: “Go get it 13 years later. Get it now.” Stosur said, “That was really nice.”
The stands were roughly half full for the final but wholly behind Stosur and Zhang, ringing the stadium with chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy, Oy.”
“You guys definitely are in a good mood right now,” Mladenovic said to the crowd during the on-court trophy presentation. “That was not our goal.”
The walk from the court to the locker room took Stosur and Zhang nearly as long as Stosur’s opening service game, which lasted 10 minutes, because every few steps she was stopped by well-wishers. Tournament workers applauded when Stosur emerged from a media-center elevator, and she received more applause from reporters as soon as she stepped inside the main interview room.
“I think to be able to play at home is super exciting,” Stosur said. “I can feel my phone going off every two seconds at the moment. It’s great to know that the support’s there from everyone that’s close to you, but also feeling it from people you don’t even know who are happy and excited, it’s an amazing feeling.”