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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11305

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (12:17): I would also like to speak about Sam Stosur, somebody who I had the pleasure of working with in 2005 as the Fed Cup captain. I quickly got to know Sam very well. We went to India to compete in the Fed Cup and then on to the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. I had some great insight into Sam and her young development, because one of my great friends and colleagues at the time, Geoff Masters, had been her coach. He had told me of the time lapse in when he would arrive for his practice sessions with her after school, as she had a timetable that allowed her to arrive early. Unlike an average 14- or 15-year-old girl, Sam would practice her serve. It was interesting to see that later in her career—her very young career at that point—her serve became her great weapon. I maintained at the time that it was a reasonably modest claim that Sam had the greatest second serve in the history of women's tennis.

I have made other claims about Sam, and at times I was ridiculed for my overzealous support of my young player. This came on the eve of Wimbledon, after a season that had had mixed results for Sam. While she had started the year by getting to the finals in Brisbane and in Sydney and had had chances to win, at that final hurdle she became a little unsure of herself, not believing or understanding the full extent of her talent. This, maybe, was revisited in Birmingham, which is just a week prior to Wimbledon, when she played the defending champion, Maria Sharapova, in a relatively noisy match. Maria had won Wimbledon the previous year at just 18 years of age and was thought to be a hot favourite again. Sam played a most magnificent match. She lost closely—6-4 in the third set. She served and volleyed beautifully. She displayed her athletic ability and her ability to volley. Her ability to play a greater depth of tennis was growing; it was no longer just a 'serve and go for a winner' approach. She was maturing.

After this match, in talking to the press, as you do, I ventured the opinion that if a young 18-year-old Sharapova could win Wimbledon so could Sam. This was written about and in fact Patrick Smith, who at the time wrote that it was a silly thing for me to have said, has now actually written an apology and acknowledged that I had shown some foresight. There were even those within Tennis Australia who thought that I was silly at the time. I hope they think this no more, although I have not received a letter of apology from them.

Sam has gone on to be a finalist at the French and now she has had this triumph—these results come from the accumulation of many losses. There is a saying in tennis that you only learn from your losses and that your greatness comes from how you deal with a loss. If you learn and then go back onto the practice court, work with your coach and practice the things that led to that loss, you are taking full responsibility for that loss and you are doing something about it; you are not admitting that you are a loser. This has certainly been the course that Sam Stosur has chosen to follow. It is not an easy course. There have been many great disappointments. Sometimes with great expectation, when you have losses, they are that much more difficult to handle.

During the year of 2005, we had a team saying—when times got really tough and these difficult moments of loss occurred, we would ask each other what time it was and the answer had to come back, 'The best time of my life.' After nearly beating Maria Sharapova at Birmingham, Sam was injured the next day and was unable to practise for the next nine days prior to Wimbledon. She practised briefly on the Saturday, she practised a little bit on the Sunday and she lost to a player in the first round of Wimbledon. This is why my predictions of her possibly winning the event were not seen to be good—they were about a girl who had only ever once played at Wimbledon and who had only once won a match.

Later on in the year, at the US Open, she lost in the first round again. Attesting to her character, she then picked up and played in the doubles event—and won it. That not only gave her that fabulous first grand slam win, it also made her the No. 1 female doubles player in the world. You can see that path from the disappointment of the first round loss, through what she has taken from the many losses and some successes, to arrive on the centre court on this historic date to play Serena Williams.

You have to understand the role that Serena and her sister have played in this sport. They have taken this sport from being very much an elite and white sport in the US. There had been two great black American players preceding them: Althea Gibson, who was the first black American to win Wimbledon in 1956, the year that Lew Hoad won, and the great Arthur Ashe—the stadium is named after Arthur Ashe. They were two players, in combination with Evonne Goolagong, who did much to broaden the appeal of the game.

The Williams sisters have done something in tennis that has not been done by anyone else in men's or women's tennis—they played each other in four consecutive grand slam events. This was during a time when women's tennis had gone from strength to strength, not the time when Billie Jean King and Margaret Court dominated the sport and there might have been only two or three other really great female competitors. These days there are 20 or 30—you do not know where the winners are going to come from in these grand slam events. These two girls, Serena and Venus, have dominated the sport during an era which has seen the likes of Steffi Graf—who may have been the greatest of all time, although Serena could also make that claim.

So for Sam to come to this historic stadium, on this historic date, to play this player who has so dominated women's tennis, and to have the calm and the maturity to play the match of her life is the sum total of her career. She has not won Wimbledon yet, but we keep our fingers crossed.

On the day that Sam lost in the first round of the US Open in 2005, after the long walk from an outside court to the locker room, I asked Sam, 'What time is it?' and she said, 'This is not the best day of my life!' I would like to reflect that the world has made a number of turns since that day—that day of learning—and I would say that the day that she beat Serena was the best day of her life.

So hearty congratulations to Sam. As much as she has done, there is a lot more to come. She has been the beneficiary of a lot of great help; David Taylor, who has taken her to this new stage, should also be congratulated. But there is no doubt that Sam's best tennis is yet to come and, as she has been so appreciative of the help she has received, there is no doubt that she will contribute to the further development of the sport in Australia.