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Aus Open Day 3: Stosur set for second round test

Tennis writers Peter Hanlon and Linda Pearce preview Day 3 of the Australian Open with Sam Stosur hoping to advance beyond the second round.

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FAMILIAR opponent, different approach. That, at least, is the plan for Samantha Stosur, who has shrugged the wildebeest from her shoulders by finally - if a little scratchily - winning a match this season, and returns on Wednesday for a sequel against Zheng Jie, the player who inflicted her most recent defeat.

''Sam played better and better in that match in Sydney and I think she played a very inspired Zheng in the third set,'' said Stosur's friend and former doubles partner Rennae Stubbs. ''It bodes well that she's had a match under her belt, and she can take on the same opponent with a different mindset. Rather than just trying to win, it's actually, 'How well can I win'?''

The relief at Team Stosur was palpable after Monday's 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 defeat of Kai-Chen Chang, as was the hope it would release her to play more freely at one of the two majors - the other being Wimbledon - where she is yet to pass the fourth round. The ninth seed knows she will need to raise the bar against Zheng, the dual grand slam semi-finalist who prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (7-9), 6-4 at last week's Sydney International.

''Look, I think there is a few things I can do better, like keep serving well. I wasn't too happy with my return last week in Sydney, and overall I think just probably need to play a little bit better,'' said Stosur, who leads the 40th-ranked Zheng 3-2 head-to-head.

''We have had some pretty close matches in the past, and last week is certainly going to be a good one to look back on and maybe watch again and see what I did well and what I didn't do well. It's going to be [about] my game, and I've got to focus on that.''

Her coach David Taylor did not scout Zheng's three-set win over compatriot Zhang Yuxuan, as last week is still fresh. ''Sam knows her well. It was a close match last week; she obviously started very poorly and then got into the match. But she's got to play better tennis when it counts. She can't let Zheng Jie off the hook with errors in critical moments, and I think that's obvious with Sam's tennis.''

"Look, I think there is a few things I can do better, like keep serving well" ... Sam Stosur.

"Look, I think there is a few things I can do better, like keep serving well" ... Sam Stosur. Photo: Wayne Taylor

Still, against Chang, it was the result that mattered more than the method, for it was all about the not-so-simple act - for Stosur, anyway - of claiming a match at home. Not such great tennis, but good-enough tennis to harvest a little of the confidence that has been missing. And to show Taylor ''the signs I'm looking for if you're really going to do well, not just get through one or two matches''. The task now is to start playing better.

Yet there had already been some positive signs from the practice court for the first time in a while, given Stosur's pre-season was disrupted by November ankle surgery that necessitated a program lighter on her feet and heavier on non-weight-bearing pursuits such as swimming and kayaking near her beachside Sydney home.

''She hadn't done enough work because of the operation, and she really worked hard in Sydney, but she probably needed to have worked hard prior to Sydney,'' Taylor said.

''But she really was determined to play Brisbane underdone, and put herself on the line, and maybe it's had a good effect in the fact that she's very narrowly focused to win some matches.''

So, with one step taken, how much relief? ''Oh, tons,'' Stubbs said. ''She may not admit it, but I think she'll be feeling a massive amount of relief to get that out of the way, because I think now she'll settle in and play the way she's supposed to.''

As to whether it turns out to be the turning point of Stosur's summer: ''We'll see. You hope. The positivity is that yes, it will be, to get that first round win, so now she can focus on everything other than that, everything other than just winning a match. It's now just letting herself play the way we know she can.''