professional debut

Hingis Plays First WTA Match, Federer Plays First Match in Japan, Koubek DQed – On This Day in Tennis History

From the October 4 chapter of the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.TennisHistoryBook.com)

1994 – Future world No. 1 Martina Hingis of Switzerland, two weeks past her 14th birthday, makes her professional debut with a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Patty Fendick in the first round of the Zurich Indoors. The Hingis debut comes after a celebrated junior career where she becomes the youngest player to win a major junior title at age 12 at the 1993 French Open and earning the world No. 1 junior ranking the next year with wins at the junior French and Wimbledon. Says Hingis of her debut match, “The first time is always difficult. But I didn’t have anything to lose, and I enjoyed it toward the end especially.” Hingis goes on to lose to Mary Pierce of France 6-4, 6-0 in the next round.

2007 – Austrian Stefan Koubek is disqualified from his second-round match with Sebastien Grosjean at the Metz Open in France when he uses inappropriate language in an argument with tournament referee Thomas Karlberg. With Koubek leading 5-7, 7-6, 4-2, the Australian left-hander argues with Karlberg over the ruling to replay a point due to a linesperson being unsighted and missing a call. Says Karlberg, “On the first point of the seventh game, on Grosjean’s serve, a Koubek forehand close to the baseline gave a 0-15 advantage to Koubek, but the umpire realized Grosjean was in the way of the line judge, who was therefore unable to judge the point. In this case, the rule is to replay the point. Koubek disagreed and asked for the supervisor’s intervention. He did not want to accept the rules and used strong language. I told him the match was over and asked the umpire to announce it.”

2007 – Roger Federer plays his first ever match in Japan, defeating Serbia’s Victor Troicki 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3) in the first round of the AIG Japan Open in Tokyo.

1986 – Pat Cash wins 16 of 20 games played and defeats Tim Mayotte 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 in the completion of a rain-postponed match to give Australia a 2-0 lead over the United States in the Davis Cup semifinals in Brisbane, Australia. Mayotte begins play leading Cash 6-4, 1-2. Cash the pairs with John Fitzgerald in the doubles match, and nearly puts away the Americans by an insurmountable 3-0 margin, but darkness postpones their match with the ad-hoc U.S. doubles team of Ken Flach and Paul Annacone, with the Aussies leading 10-8, 6-1, 5-7. Annacone, in his Davis Cup debut and what ultimately becomes his only Davis Cup playing experience, substitutes for an injured Robert Seguso.

LATE BLOOMER STOSUR A RARITY ON WTA TOUR

By Blair Henley

The ATP Tour is full of late bloomers. Sure there is the occasional teenage superstar, but it’s often more common for men to peak in their mid to late 20’s.

Not so on the women’s side.

That’s why 26-year-old Samantha Stosur’s recent first-time appearance in the Top 10 is an unusual feat. Her stellar doubles resume has made it easy to miss the fact that her singles ranking has been steadily improving since her professional debut in 1999.

In an age where mindless pounding from the baseline seems to have taken over, Stosur has shown that a well-rounded game, complete with solid volleys and a blazing serve, pays long-term dividends. Up-and-coming players and their coaches would be wise to take note.

Stosur, who goes by the nickname Sam, grew up in Queensland, Australia and didn’t start playing tennis until age 8, when a friend gave her a racket for Christmas. She spent as much time as possible hitting with her older brother until he advised their parents to get her some real lessons. By the time she turned 16, Sam’s rapid improvement had secured her a spot in the Australian Institute of Sport’s tennis program, which helped launch her professional career.

Stosur’s aggressive style of play took some time to develop, and it wasn’t until 2005 that she started seeing significant results in both singles and doubles. She teamed up with Lisa Raymond midway through the year and proceeded to win seven doubles titles with her new partner, including the U.S. Open and the WTA Tour Championships. Her newfound success provided the necessary momentum heading into 2006, where Stosur delighted her home crowd by making it to the fourth round of the Australian Open. After that solid season, she reached the No. 1 ranking in doubles and sat comfortably at No. 29 in singles.

Things were looking great for the Aussie, but trouble lurked right around the corner. After a decent start to 2007, Stosur’s season was cut short by extreme fatigue and joint pain. It wasn’t until October of that year, after a viral meningitis scare, that she was finally diagnosed with Lyme disease. The tick-borne illness sapped her strength and energy and left many wondering if she could come back from such severe health issues.

Stosur overcame the odds and had a fairly successful return to tennis in 2008, but she didn’t completely regain steam until the following year. In addition to her consistent doubles success, Sam’s all-court game fell together in 2009, making her a significant singles threat in the process. Her breakthrough season was capped off by her first WTA Tour singles title in Osaka.

That brings us to 2010. Stosur went into this year with a new and improved slice backhand and an intense focus on her singles play. Boy has that paid off. She recently captured the Family Circle Cup title and just fell in a tough three-setter to Justine Henin in the final of the Stuttgart Grand Prix. Interestingly, many of her biggest tournament wins have come on clay, which speaks to her adaptability and peak physical condition.

Stosur may have been a long-shot for success when she turned pro over ten years ago, but her slow and steady ascent shows just how dedicated she has been to a game-style that took some extra time to develop.  For every hard-hitting baseliner that has succeeded on the pro tour, there are many more that have flamed out upon realizing their games had hit a permanent plateau. Sam is a fantastic example for the next generation of players who would be smart to establish an aggressive, well-rounded game that can set them up for long-term success.

Only time will tell if Samantha Stosur will become a fixture among the world’s tennis elite,  but for now it looks like this late bloomer has effectively thrown her “doubles specialist” title out the window, trading it in for something more along the lines of singles powerhouse.