NEW YORK – Defending U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur says she's never done a biceps curl in her life.
Yet the 28-year-old Australian with the impressive arms is among the fittest women on the WTA tour.
After overcoming Lyme disease and viral meningitis during a 10-month layoff in 2007-08, she focused on fitness in her return to tennis. She switched from a successful doubles career (23 titles, 4 majors) to singles and won her first Grand Slam title last year by dominating Serena Williams in 73 minutes at Flushing Meadows.
The self-described "foodie" loves Japanese cuisine and admired Steffi Graf while growing in Adelaide. The snorkeling buff who doesn't like to fly prefers running on the beach or boxing in the parks Down Under to stay fit. Otherwise, Stosur is based in Tampa, Fla., where last week she practiced for three days in 90-degree heat to prepare for Monday's start of the U.S. Open.
Stosur shares her workout regime, favorite foods and how to perfect that nasty kick serve.
Stosur withstood the rain delays caused by Hurricane Irene, court changes and the longest match in U.S. Open women's singles history during the 2011 event. Fitness certainly played a part in her 3 hour, 16 minute win over Nadia Petrova to reach the fourth round. That's a long way from early 2008, when she was rehabbing from Lyme disease and limited to a 20-minute walk every other day. Her booming serves and heavy topspin forehands keep opponents on the run. Stosur says her physique is part genetics, offseason workouts and just pounding tennis balls. "Obviously the gym work helps, but I haven't tried to isolate my arms."
Stosur says strong legs and core are important in tennis because of the quick bursts of speed and lateral movement. Her workouts include biking, weights and stretch-band exercises for her serving shoulder, and she has access to a fitness trainer, massage therapist and sports psychologist. Stosur practices tennis drills and points on the court, followed by stretching and cardio for 30 minutes or 45 minutes of weights on alternate days. During the two-month offseason "you can make good gains with endurance, speed or strength." In Tampa last week, Stosur and coach Dave Taylor focused on tennis only and downed 72 bottles of water over three days of practice in high humidity.
At 5-foot-7 and 143 pounds, Stosur doesn't feel she needs to restrict her diet, given all the exercise. She eats a lot of fish and sushi, taking in the cultures and cuisines of various countries during the WTA season. The tour starts in Australia in January, moves through France, Thailand, Qatar, Mexico and Malaysia before hitting 22 other counties en route to the season-ending championships in October in Bulgaria. She likes to be "adventurous" and prefers a balanced approach versus Novak Djokovic's gluten-free diet, for example. She returns to favorite restaurants around the world and enjoys yakitori, noodles and Mexican dishes.
While Stosur says she couldn't do a chin-up until recently, she can squat nearly 200 pounds. She works on lunges and dynamic movement, staying away from weight machines. She uses "a lot of dumbbells and Swiss balls" for balance and core exercises. Stosur, who sprained her left ankle in February before a quarterfinal match in Doha, prefers riding the stationary bike because it avoids wear and tear on the feet and joints. Interval cycling spikes the heart rate, which also occurs during long, high-intensity points on the court. She has focused on leg strength the last two years because moving out wide to a ball requires stability and "knowing you can hit a good shot and not be on the defensive."
Stosur and Serena Williams are among the few women strong enough to use the kick serve. It bounces high and away from the returner, leading to many easy points. Stosur used it to reach the French Open semifinals, her best showing in the Grand Slams this year after losing in the first round of the Australian Open and second round of Wimbledon. She practiced it soon after getting a tennis racket for Christmas at age 8. The key is "don't throw it too far behind" your head and "get up and swing at 100 percent pace." Use a strong wrist motion and brush under the ball, hitting from bottom left to the top right. It's even better if done "with a good bit of disguise on the ball toss."