Ask Sam Stosur what the time is on her career clock, and the 33-year-old graciously deflects any suggestion it is closing in on midnight.
“Oh, ah, I don’t know – maybe 10pm?” she laughs. “I really think I’ve got another few good years left in me and hopefully this is just a little blip that I’ll get over and then be able to bounce back and really end on a good note.”
Stosur’s latest setback, a painful stress fracture and muscle tear in her right hand, has sidelined the former world No. 4 since her fourth-round loss to eventual champion Jelena Ostapenko at the French Open in early June. The setback has punctured her ranking and savaged her preparation for a 14th US Open, the grand slam she won by upstaging the great Serena Williams on finals day in 2011.
“I think if I’m in New York and I can just play, then that’s a win in itself at this stage, considering how much I’ve missed,” Stosur tells ESPN after postponing her comeback to accommodate a slower-than-expected healing process but before targeting a return in New Haven from August 20. “But I’m hoping I’m going to be one of those players that gets a bit refreshed by having some time off and can come back fairly well.”
Like, perhaps, a certain Swiss owner of 18 singles slams, the past two after lengthy spells away from the game?
“I don’t know if I can compare myself to Roger,” the ever-understated Stosur smiles. “But I think if you apply yourself and you know what it takes and you’ve still got that desire, I’d like to think I can still get back to … ah, sorta the top of the game. At least, as far as I can.”
Top 20 is both reasonable and achievable as a starting point, the world No. 43 believes after being encouraged by some typically robust form during the European clay court season that delivered a ninth career singles title in Strasbourg before misfortune struck at Roland Garros. Hence she is frustrated by the enforced brevity of this edition of the North American hardcourt swing. “I know certain times of the year is when I’ve really got better chances with conditions and just the way that I play and everything, and if you can make it all happen there, you never know where you can get to.”
The Queenslander is encouraged by the longevity of the Williams sisters, and others, but she also admits to feeling differently about tennis now that far more of her competitive years are behind her than ahead. When this year’s Australian Open ended in its usual disappointment, Stosur found herself wondering how many more there would be; she vowed to make the most of every last opportunity, determined not to drift along assuming that everything would just continue to happen as it always had.
“I know that eventually it’s not just gonna roll on anymore, so, yeah, sometimes you do sit back and you’re like ‘oh, geez, I really loved playing her, or loved doing this, and I hope I get another few chances at it to try and make an impact’,” Stosur says, insisting she will play on while she still enjoys tennis and all that comes with it but also only for as long as her level remains where it needs to be.
“I want to try and win another tournament, and I’d love to do well in another slam. It probably hadn’t happened for a little bit, and then at French Open time it really was like ‘oh, I can really still make a push for something’, and really feel like I could do something well. And if that’s still a possibility, then I think that’s still enough drive to keep going, as well.”
So if someone had told her 21-year-old self that this would be her career, would Stosur have taken it?
“Yeah! I’d be pretty happy with it,” she tells ESPN. “There’s always things you wish ‘oh, gee, I wish I’d won that match or achieved that’, but I think all in all, right now, with what I’ve been able to do, I’m very, very happy with the career that I’ve had.”