No use in going for throat
Samantha Stosur from Australia playing against Jie Zheng on Rod Laver arena. Photo: Joe Armao
Before this year's Australian Open - while everyone was busily talking Samantha Stosur into the capitulation she was about to have - I decided she should take a leaf out of the Canberra Raiders' book.
After big losses at home to Newcastle, Gold Coast and Wests Tigers last year, the Green Machine decided to stay at a hotel at Eagle Hawk and pretend they were playing away.
It worked a treat and they stormed into the finals on the back of five straight wins. Coach David Furner was hailed for a brilliant piece of reverse psychology.
In Stosur's case, it would be slightly more difficult to pretend she wasn't at home because the Brisbanite would be staying in a Melbourne hotel anyway.
She needed to take it further - she had to treat it like she was in another country.
The only way she could talk to friends and family was by late-night phone calls or going to an internet cafe to Skype. She'd pretend she couldn't understand a word anyone was saying and she could keep joking to herself about the ''crazy money they have here''. Even she has admitted she's choking.
Ahhh, choking. That remarkable ability to turn certain victory into a gut-wrenching defeat.
With a win in sight, the throat gets dry, the palms sweat and your playing ability seems to revert back to your childhood. It's one of the worst things a sportsperson can ''achieve'' in their careers.
''Slammin'' Sam brought it back in vogue when she dropped her bundle in the final set at the Australian Open against China's Jie Zheng.
She seemed to be cruising at 5-2 as she served for the match, before it turned horribly wrong. Candidly, she admitted the demons in her head and the pressure of playing in front of her home crowd had become too much to bear.
With a US Open title under her belt, we thought her choking only emerged when she played at home. But her coach, David Taylor, has assured us she chokes wherever she goes.
''She has had shocking results at Wimbledon every year, played a terrible match at the French Open - it wasn't in Australia,'' he said reassuringly.
Thanks Dave! Psychology is clearly a strong point.
Maybe her first move should be to get a new coach.
I ran my idea past sports psychologist Jeffrey Bond, who worked with another Aussie tennis star Pat Cash, as well as at the AIS.
He was in Cash's corner when he beat Ivan Lendl in the 1987 Wimbledon final.
Bond didn't think much of Furner's idea - I did steal it after all - describing it as a ''Band-aid fix''.
He thought Stosur was playing for personal pride and had a ''fear of failure''. It meant when she was in a winning position, she became worried about losing, which would then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But he thought she could fix it.
When working with Cash, the focus wasn't on winning.
''This might sound paradoxical, the plan was not to go out and win, the plan was to go out and play great tennis and let the tennis do the talking,'' Bond said.
''Because if you get focused on, 'I must win', then inevitably you're also focusing on, 'What if I don't?' And once you get tense, your mind starts playing tricks on you and your 'don't-make-a-mistake voice' comes into play.''
And that's when you choke.
Our Sam is just one in a long line of athletes who have grasped defeat from the jaws of victory. Aussie golfers have been doing it for years.
Adam Scott is the latest, after somehow leaving Royal Lytham and St Annes Golf Club without the claret jug.
Like Stosur, he was well clear when the finishing line, or 18th hole, started to loom.
He was four shots clear of Ernie Els with just four holes to play.
Four bogeys later and Els was the Open champion.
It brought back memories of the great Greg Norman at the US Masters in 1996, when he gave up a six-shot, final-round lead at Augusta National to miss out on the green jacket.
Norman succinctly said: ''I screwed up. It's all on me.''
Thanks Captain Obvious!
For two years running, AFL side Port Adelaide finished top of the ladder in 2002 and 2003 only to get knocked out in the preliminary finals. It prompted millionaire businessman Allan Scott, a sponsor of the club, to say they'd never win a flag while Mark Williams was in charge.
Next year, the Power proved him wrong and Williams celebrated by choking himself on his tie in a now-famous image.
The New Zealand All Blacks have made an art form of underachieving at the Rugby World Cup, before they finally climbed the pinnacle last year at home.
Port and the All Blacks prove there is hope for our Sam.
But it's still going to be a long year for Stosur.
The choking spotlight will follow her wherever she goes until she wins another major. And then it will magnify even further at next year's Australian Open.
Luckily she'll have her coach Taylor telling her she doesn't only choke at home, but everywhere.
If his pep talk doesn't work then she just needs to remember these four words, spoken very slowly and very loudly: ''Do you speak English?''