No stranger to homecourt pressure, Sam Stosur is again feeling the heat ahead of the Australian Open – this time from compatriot Daria Gavrilova.
After eight years in the top 30, the ex-US Open champion admits she will need to “up her game” this summer to keep rising star Gavrilova from becoming the Australian women’s No.1.
But Stosur claims it will make her finally relish the home crowd expectation as the country’s top ranked woman.
Stosur, 32, has arrived for her Australian Open warm-up tournament – the Brisbane International starting on Sunday.
However, the former world No.4 admitted she was wary of an opponent on the other side of the country – Gavrilova, part of Australia’s Hopman Cup title defence team in Perth.
Stosur finished the year ranked world No.21 – just four places higher than Gavrilova.
Russian-born Gavrilova – 10 years Stosur’s junior at 22 – set up a breakout 2016 with Hopman Cup success and a stunning run to the Australian Open fourth round.
Not that Stosur needed reminding.
“She did very well last summer with Hopman Cup and then the Australian Open with a good finish to the year,” Stosur said of Gavrilova.
“I know she is working hard and right behind me in the rankings.
“I know I have to pick up my game if that is somewhere I want to stay.”
Gavrilova’s emergence adds to the homecourt pressure Stosur knows all too well.
Each year Stosur faces enormous expectation at her home grand slam – and each year she walks away largely frustrated.
She has only made the Australian Open fourth round twice.
But Stosur claimed she would embrace the pressure this year.
“It’s a position I have been in a number of times, sometimes it is a bit more difficult and challenging.
“But being the top ranked Aussie it is something you come to expect.
“You have to embrace it because you would rather be in that situation rather than not.”
Stosur’s new coach Josh Eagle believes finding a solution to his charge’s well documented mental challenges in Australia is “not rocket science”.
“We are just trying to get her to relax and embrace the challenge, know that there will be some tough times out there,” former Australian Davis Cup coach Eagle said.
“Hopefully she will be able to deal with the pressure when it comes – because it is going to come.
“(But) it’s not rocket science what we are dealing with here.”