“I played some of the best tennis of my life in Charleston so the memories I have there will hopefully inspire me to play well again.”Sam Stosur
When Sam Stosur sat down with her team to plot her assault on the 2012 tennis season, she knew precisely where she would be in the world in the first week of April.
“I always love playing in Charleston and it is one of the first tournaments I put on my schedule every year,” she reveals.
“The fans are really into their tennis and the staff at the tournament are great. It’s always nice to play an event where you’ve performed well in the past, and feel comfortable with all the conditions.”
Indeed, Stosur arrives at the WTA Premier event in South Carolina this year as the highest seeded player and a past champion, having hoisted the trophy aloft in 2010.
The Australian’s resounding win in the final that year – a 6-0 6-3 destruction of Vera Zvonareva in just 52 minutes – kick-started a magnificent claycourt season for the then 26-year-old. Stosur went 20-3 on the surface in 2010, also reaching the final in Stuttgart and the quarterfinals in Madrid before staging a stunning run to the final at Roland Garros. There she defeated Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic along the way before falling to Francesca Schiavone.
The world No.5, who says that clay is the surface that best suits her imposing game, believes the Charleston event is the perfect preparation for the next segment of the tennis season, which is staged almost exclusively on the dirt until the French Open finishes in early June.
“Clay suits my kick serve and forehand, which I like to play with lots of spin. It also gives me time to get around my backhand and try to use my forehand to dominate the points,” she explains.
“I always look forward to starting on the clay and it is nice to start on the green clay. It maybe plays a touch faster than red clay but it is very nice and I believe great preparation for Europe.
“The clay court season is my favourite time of the year to play and something I set myself to be ready for.”
Following her week in South Carolina, Stosur will next fly to Europe where she plans to represent Australia in its Fed Cup tie in Germany in late April. She is then scheduled to contest WTA Premier events in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome in the lead-up to Roland Garros.
But before she can focus on that, she must concentrate on the week ahead in Charleston, a city that hosts one of the WTA’s most historic and pioneering events.
The tournament was first played in 1973, the year in which the Women’s Tennis Association was founded. The inaugural event was the first women’s tennis tournament to offer $100,000 in prizemoney, and to be broadcast on network television. It is the longest-running women’s-only professional tournament in the world, with the 2012 tournament its 40th edition.
Stosur’s name is engraved on the trophy alongside some of the biggest stars in the history of the women’s game – Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati, Venus and Serena Williams and Justine Henin are all former Family Circle Cup champions.
For almost 30 years the Family Circle Cup was held on the green clay courts of South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, before in 2001 moving to the new Daniel Island Tennis Centre in Charleston.
Stosur says there are many things that draw her back to the tournament each year.
“Charleston is such a beautiful city, and the fans are all tennis people who really know and appreciate the game,” she says.
“For such a big tournament it is friendly and relaxed. The surface is good for my tennis. I now have some very good friends in Charleston so it’s a terrific week for me.”
While it may no longer attract quite the same stellar playing fields following a re-structure of the WTA tournament calendar that took effect in 2009, Stosur’s competition at this year’s Family Circle Cup remains formidable.
In her half of the draw sits Jelena Jankovic, Serena Williams and Sabine Lisicki, champions in Charleston in 2007, 2008 and 2009 respectively. Should she get past those potential opponents, she could face in the final her 2010 victim Zvonareva (seeded No.4) or third seed and recent Miami semifinalist Marion Bartoli.
Thanks to a first round bye, Stosur’s first opponent will be American Jamie Hampton, who battled past compatriot Sloane Stephens to book a second-round date with the Aussie.
Stosur will be hoping to draw confidence from that run to the Family Circle Cup title two years ago, and to better her third-round finish at last year’s tournament, where she lost in straight sets to eventual finalist Elena Vesnina.
“I played some of the best tennis of my life in Charleston so the memories I have there will hopefully inspire me to play well again,” she says.
“I think my form is coming along, but obviously the start of the year (in Australia) was not ideal. I know I am very close to playing some great tennis and hopefully on my favourite surface I can get the results I am aiming for.”