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Part-time Tampa resident Samantha Stosur heads to Wimbledon playing her best tennis at age 26

Samantha Stosur did not burst onto the tennis scene. The 26-year-old Australian and part-time Tampa resident has paid her dues. Since turning professional in 1998, Stosur has taken baby steps up the ladder of success.

There were a few years on the International Tennis Federation circuit, a step below the Women's Tennis Association, that culminated with four singles and six doubles wins in 2001. Then came a slow grind on the WTA. There were a few upset wins here and some doubles championships there, but nothing to vault Stosur into recognition.

Things appear to be changing.

Stosur picked up her first singles championship in 2009 in Osaka, Japan. Then came another championship this year in Charleston, S.C. Two weeks ago at the French Open, the second major tournament of the season, Stosur had a memorable run to the singles final before losing to Francesca Schiavone 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).

On the way to the final, Stosur defeated Jelena Jankovic, top-seeded Serena Williams and Justine Henin in the semifinals. Her performance earned Stosur a No. 6 world ranking and gave her confidence heading into Wimbledon.

"I would think, yes, I'm playing the best tennis of my career," Stosur said via e-mail from Eastbourne, England, where she was playing in the Aegon International tournament as a tuneup to Wimbledon.

There was a time when Stosur was usually an early round casualty, but that is in the past.

With a rocket serve and strong ground strokes, Stosur is a legitimate candidate to go far at Wimbledon. She advanced to the semifinals on the grass in Eastbourne, so the surface shouldn't be a problem.

She has played Wimbledon seven times but has never advanced past the third round. Her opening opponent this year is 79th-ranked Kaia Kanepi.

"I always look forward to Wimbledon," Stosur said. "It's a great event, and I think everyone enjoys playing there. It's a little bit different than the other grand slams. It's great fun, and I enjoy staying around Wimbledon village in a house. I'm looking forward to it, just like every other year.

"To get past the third round would be nice. I've never been able to do that at Wimbledon, so I guess that's goal No. 1."

Stosur is also trying to make history. She snapped one streak by becoming the first Australian woman to reach a grand slam final since Wendy Turnbull at the 1980 Australian Open. No Australian has claimed any major since Evonne Goolagong won the 1980 Wimbledon championship.

"I didn't think about that, and I actually wasn't aware of it being that long until someone told me before the (French Open) final," Stosur said. "To break the drought (of reaching the final) is something pretty amazing, and for me to be the one to do it makes me proud of what I was able to achieve."

A major title would certainly make her country proud, but the Tampa Bay area also has a claim to Stosur. She traveled to Tampa for a week after the 2006 U.S. Open. She was interested in finding a U.S. base, and some relatives lived in the area.

"I went down there for a week, and before I knew it, I was moving there the next year," Stosur said.

When she is not on tour or back home in Australia, Stosur works out at Harbour Island Athletic Club in Tampa or Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel. And she said she likes to hang out at Wright's Gourmet House on Dale Mabry Highway.

But after Wimbledon she plans on going to back to Australia to train with her coach, David Taylor.

"It was just one of those things, really," Stosur said of moving to Tampa. "It worked out really well because a lot of my dad's family live nearby, so I can see my grandpa and my uncle and aunties whenever I go back there."

In Australia, Stosur is a big deal. Her performance on the tour is closely followed, and she is the most likely Australian woman to bring home the country's first major in 30 years.

In the United States, Stosur is less known.

While Venus and Serena Williams get most of the attention, Stosur grinds away in relative anonymity. That will change if she is able to add a big win to her resume, like, say, Wimbledon.

"I'm starting to get recognized more, not just at tennis but out in general," Stosur said. "I do in Australia, but in Tampa I don't get recognized a lot. A couple of times at my favorite lunch place people have seemed to know who I am and come up to say hello."

.Fast facts

Wimbledon Championships

When/where: Monday-July 4, London. Women's singles final July 3; men's singles final July 4.

Surface: Grass

Defending champs: Men — Roger Federer; women — Serena Williams

Top seeds: Men — Roger Federer; women — Serena Williams.

TV: ESPN2, Ch. 28 (men's and women's finals)

Part-time Tampa resident Samantha Stosur heads to Wimbledon playing her best tennis at age 26 06/19/10 [Last modified: Sunday, June 20, 2010 12:11am]

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