Storm Hunter: stepping up on the big stage
Inspired to take up tennis after watching Andre Agassi compete at the Australian Open, Storm Hunter is preparing to contest the main draw of her home Grand Slam for a fifth time.
A Grand Slam title, a wedding, and a wildcard into the Australian Open main draw. That’s not a bad six months for Storm Hunter.
But the journey, and the foundations of that success, started long ago for the 28-year-old from Rockhampton.
Hunter fell in love with the sport as a six-year-old after watching the Australian Open on television.
“My idol growing up was Andre Agassi,” she said. “I first started to play tennis because he was playing one of the first matches I ever watched and after watching him on TV I just wanted to be a pro tennis player.”
The lefthander debuted at professional level in 2008 shortly after her 14th birthday and claimed a maiden title as a teenager in 2013.
That impressive early development came on top of having to juggle a family move from Queensland to Western Australia as a child and balancing her education while competing on the ITF Tour.
Hunter made her first main draw singles Grand Slam appearance at Australian Open 2014, returning in 2015 and 2016.
She made doubles her primary focus in early 2017, taking a maiden title in Nottingham followed by two more finals before the end of the year.
But a major injury setback halted her progress in 2018.
“I started getting some shoulder pain, which got more intense,” she explained.
“I played the Aussie Open that year just focusing on doubles, but after that I stopped playing completely and was basically out for all of 2018.”
Following that injury, Hunter won an ITF singles tournament in only her second tournament back (the Playford International in South Australia) and took another doubles title in Thailand in early 2020.
In the last two years, her doubles career has taken off, and her singles game is also reaping rewards.
She reached a career-high singles ranking of world No.119 in the past 18 months, qualified for her first Grand Slam main draw in singles outside Australia (Roland Garros in 2021), and currently sits inside the world top 10 in doubles.
But it is within a team environment where Hunter has shone brightest.
At the 2021 Billie Jean King Cup Finals, she produced the win of her career to date with victory over world No.18 Elise Mertens.
Twelve months later, she produced a hat-trick of victories over higher-ranked opponents – Alison van Uytvanck, Viktoria Kuzmova and Heather Watson – at the team event, taking her Billie Jean King Cup record to 5-2 overall.
Team coach Nicole Pratt was among the many observers impressed by Hunter’s efforts to step up in the absence of Daria Saville, who was sidelined with injury.
“Storm was sensational. She really was,” said Pratt. Hunter subsequently won the Billie Jean King Cup Heart Award acknowledging her efforts throughout the week. “Her ability to step up under pressure and lead our team across both disciplines is something we are very proud of.”
For Hunter, the chance to wear her nation’s colours and be around her peers is one she cherishes.
“I love it. For me, I thrive in this environment, having the team around us, not just on the court but the whole week before. Then obviously during my match, to be able to look at them and get the support and energy from them,” she said, explaining that competing beyond the individual realm brings out her best.
“I feel like I’m representing Australia, so it takes away that individual aspect of tennis, which obviously most of the year, that’s what we are playing.
“I think rankings go out the window. I don’t look on paper what players have done. I think it’s definitely a different type of pressure playing for your country.”
That selfless team focus is evident in Hunter’s enormous doubles’ success in recent years.
She combined with Marc Polmans to reach the Australian Open 2021 mixed doubles final, before teaming up with Ash Barty to reach the quarterfinals of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games that same year.
She also reached a semifinal in doubles at the Prague Open (and the singles quarterfinals at the same tournament).
Last season, she combined once again with Barty to win the Adelaide International, but the crowning moment was still to come.
At the US Open, Hunter reached the semifinals of the women’s doubles with French partner Caroline Dolehide, before claiming the mixed doubles title alongside John Peers.
She celebrated a milestone partnership of a different kind when she married long-time partner Loughlin Hunter in November last year.
She was granted a wildcard into Australian Open 2023 and is grateful for another chance after pushing world No.7 Aryna Sabalenka to three sets in the first round last year.
“Thank you to the Tennis Australia team for this amazing opportunity. I’m incredibly grateful to have the chance to play at home and want to continue playing at the level I was able to play at during the Billie Jean King Cup.”
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