Melbourne, Australia, 7 February 2021 | Leigh Rogers

As Sam Stosur prepares for Australian Open 2021, the Grand Slam-winning champion has a new appreciation for the opportunity to compete.

The 36-year-old lives in Melbourne and like millions of the city’s residents, endured a long year of restrictions and lockdown.

“It was hard not being able to do what you take for granted every single day,” Stosur said. “For some people that was being away from family, being able to do your job, even having a job. All these things really proved that you have to make every day count for what it is.”

There was a silver lining to a challenging 2020 for Stosur, with her partner giving birth to their first child in June. She relished motherhood and the opportunity to spend an extended time at home with daughter Evie, opting not to return to the tour last year when professional tennis resumed.

> READ: Stosur shares baby news

State border closures meant Stosur’s Queensland-based parents had to wait until December to meet their grandchild.

“Eventually they were allowed to come,” Stosur said. “They had three flights cancelled and were absolutely beside themselves after they had been counting down the days.”

Her parents have recently returned to Melbourne again for the summer – but unlike other years, attending the Australian Open is not their top priority.

“They want to spend as much time as they can with Evie, who knows they might not even come and watch me this year,” Stosur laughed.

Stosur’s happy disposition highlights the more-relaxed mindset she is adopting in her tour return.

“It is definitely easy to get complacent and think ‘oh yeah whatever, it is just another day’, but in 2020 even leaving your house wasn’t allowed at times,” Stosur said.

“It made us all realise how much we actually love the freedom to travel and having the ability to see our family and friends. When we couldn’t do these things, it reminds you to make the most of everything that you want in life.”

For Stosur, that still includes competing against the world’s best.

The world No.112 is determined to resume her illustrious career and has received a wildcard to make her 19th Australian Open main draw appearance.

“I’m pretty proud of that number. I’ve had a very long career and I guess that just really rubs it in that it has been a long one,” she laughed.

“But to have that sort of longevity is fantastic. I’m very proud of that.”

Stosur has been working hard in preparation for her comeback, joined by coach and former world No.1 doubles player Rennae Stubbs in recent weeks.

“It’s been a long time since I started hitting again,” Stosur said. “There’s been a lot of practice, so it’s going to be good to get started. I feel like I’ve definitely improved from where I started a few months ago, so that’s always a good feeling.”

> READ: Aussie women set for Australian Open 2021

The US Open 2011 champion faces fellow Australian Destanee Aiava in the Australian Open first round on Tuesday. It is her first tour-level meeting against the 20-year-old and the first time she has played another Aussie in an Australian Open singles match.

“Through the summer I just want to play well, play how I know I can and enjoy myself out there,” Stosur said.

“I just want to let it happen and play with freedom. I have struggled with that in the past a little bit, so that’s really the main goal for me. If I can do that, win or lose, I’ll walk off happy.”

Tickets for Australian Open 2021 are available through Ticketmaster.