Last-minute wildcard pays off for Stosur

Samantha Stosur is hoping a new coach and last-minute change of heart will culminate in her brightest French Open build-up since she lost the 2010 final at Roland Garros.

Stosur will be chasing her first title since going back-to-back in Osaka last October when she takes on unseeded Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic in the final of the Strasbourg International on Saturday.

But Australia’s top-ranked player only accepted a late wildcard entry into the tournament after suffering a first-round exit at last week’s Rome Masters.

After missing Australia’s Fed Cup tie last month with a calf tear, Stosur had been steadily regaining form and confidence following a reunion with long-time former coach David Taylor.

The former US Open champion and one-time world No.4 had dropped to 27th in the rankings since splitting with Taylor in September 2013.

But her revival began almost immediately after reuniting with Taylor, an ex-mentor of world No.1s Martina Hingis and Ana Ivanovic who also guided Alicia Molik to the top 10.

She ended the 2015 tour-best 11-match claycourt winning streak of German Angelique Kerber in Madrid despite still struggling with injury.

“Even though I lost in the third round, I still thought I had a pretty good tournament in Madrid,” Stosur told AAP.

But after falling first up in the Italian capital to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Stosur was concerned about losing momentum ahead of the season’s second grand slam starting on Sunday.

“I was hitting the ball well in practice but I wanted to transfer that to matches, so I asked for a wildcard here (in Strasbourg),” Stosur said.

“Luckily I was able to get one because all week I’ve played well. I’m really pleased.

“It’s always good getting some tough matches and my timing’s been good, so I’m doing all the things you want to be doing heading into a grand slam.”

After a fighting three-set win over new stablemate Ajla Tomljanovic, who trained with Stosur at Taylor’s base in Lichtenstein after Australia’s Fed Cup playoff loss to the Netherlands, the third seed overcame highly-rated young American Sloane Stephens 3-6 6-3 6-0 in Friday’s semi-finals.

Her victory came hours after being thrust into a likely third-round showdown at Roland Garros with defending champion Maria Sharapova.

Despite the challenging draw ahead, Stosur will be full of confidence arriving at Roland Garros feeling the best prepared she had since winning 18 of 20 matches on clay en route to the title match five years ago.

“No matter what happens tomorrow, I’m playing the kind of tennis I want to be playing,” Stosur said.

Seeded 26th this year in Paris, Stosur will open her campaign on Monday against American Melanie Brengle.

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