Patriotism and Sam Stosur

Australian women’s tennis is in need of a real “champion”, and has been in need of one for some time now. The last Australian woman to claim a major title was Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won Wimbledon all the way back in 1980. I’ve been frightfully busy during the last week, but was heartened and surprised to hear of Samantha Stosur’s giant-killing efforts at the French Open. Anyone capable of dispatching Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic in the one tournament is undoubtedly a player with a lot of ability and a lot of mental toughness.

It’s been fascinating to watch the unerringly shallow Australian media latch on to Sam just as she reached the precipice of so-called “real” glory by making the French Open final. When it comes to sport, we love our winners, but we’re not so interested in inconsistent performers or those battling valiantly to reach the elite echelon, even if the lives of such people often make for better stories. Australian tennis for the last few years, of course, has been all about Lleyton Hewitt and Bernard Tomic. Women’s tennis has barely registered as a blip on the radar. Stosur has always been treated like something of a second-class citizen amongst our athletic elite, and it is only now that she has done some truly remarkable things in this latest tournament that she is being heralded as our “Super Sam”. Why is this?

There is a lesson in the tournament outcome, of course. Despite being the favourite to win the final by a huge margin, Stosur just couldn’t get it together in the final, losing in straight sets to plucky Italian Francesca Schiavone. I watched the first set and a half, and Stosur seemed quite nervy, missing numerous simple conversions she should have made, and playing some truly erratic shots. She was placed under considerable pressure by the gutsy way in which Schiavone took the game to her. Physically, the Italian was the underdog, but she still somehow managed to overpower Stosur. Let’s take a step back for a moment here. Francesca Schiavone was the first Italian woman in history to reach a Grand Slam final, and yesterday, became the first Italian woman ever to win one. That’s some achievement. Stosur’s performance has been remarkable over the last week, and she deserves our plaudits, but Schiavone’s performance was one better – not that you would read about it in the Australian media.

We love our sport in Australia, but for the vast majority of the time it sure does seem as though you have to be male, Australian and a winner in order to be celebrated, or even, for that matter, noticed. If you happen for some reason to fall down on one of those criteria, you’re taking up valuable room in the sports pages that could be filled by footy.