Sunday, January 9, 2011

Sam's the real deal, says Serena, Kim and Justine.

Samantha Stosur completes her Australian Open preparation in the coming week buoyed with the knowledge some of the biggest names in tennis have anointed her a grand slam champion in the making.

Five-times Open champion Serena Williams, who will miss the 2011 edition with a foot injury, title favourite Kim Clijsters and fellow former world No.1 Justine Henin have all endorsed Stosur as the most-improved player in the game and capable of reigning at Melbourne Park this month.

Despite a second-round hiccup at the season-opening Brisbane International, Stosur is brimming with belief after crowning her breakout 2010 with a semi-final charge to the year-ending championship in Doha.

And now the backing of Williams, Clijsters and Henin - who boast 24 grand slam crowns between them - has sent Stosur's confidence soaring.

"It's definitely nice to hear it," Australia's world No.6 said on Saturday.

"People wouldn't say it unless they really meant it, so I'd rather have people say it than say she's never going to win one, that's for sure...But, at the end of the day, you've got to do that...I know myself that I think I'm possibly capable of doing it, but there's a long way to go from the start of a grand slam to holding the winner's trophy...But I'm going to be doing my best and hopefully one day it can happen."

Stosur has drawn in-form Belgian Yanina Wickmayer in the opening round of the Sydney International, which gets underway on Sunday.

A 2009 US Open semi-finalist, Wickmayer reached the final of the Auckland Classic and will provide Stosur with a stern test in the last warm-up event.

Stosur leads their career series 2-1 and won her most recent meeting with Wickmayer, last August in Stanford, in three sets.

"I'll definitely be expecting a tough match but hopefully I can look back on those previous results and play well and get through it," Stosur said.

Victory over Wickmayer could propel fourth-seeded Stosur intoa second-round showdown with fellow Australian Jelena Dokic, who is appearing in Sydney for first time since contesting the bronze medal playoff at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Dokic, though, will need to pull of an early upset to keep her potential date with Stosur after striking dual grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the opening round.

"It's going to be a tough match, but it could have been worse. The cut-off is always unbelievable here," Dokic said.

Indeed with seven of the world's top 10 stars featuring in the event, only players inside the top 29 gained direct entry into the 30-woman draw.

World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki and the second-ranked Vera Zvonareva have first-round byes, but there are no guarantees for anyone else.

"It's one of the toughest draws probably all year and so to have that going into a grand slam, you can't really get better preparation," Stosur said.

Australian wildcard Anastasia Rodionova, the world No.64, meets eighth seed Li Na first-up, with third-seeded Clijsters opening against Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru.

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