Stosur happy to be standard-bearer for home slam hopes

By Ian Ransom

The late-blooming 26-year-old Queenslander has arrived in Melbourne Park after the best season of her career, bringing a French Open final, a world ranking of six and a new resolve to embrace the attention that she once shied away from.

"Much better (equipped) this time round, I think I've definitely learned a lot and experienced a lot more in the last 12 months and 18 months and definitely got used to the spot that I'm in now," Stosur told reporters after smashing an ice sculpture with her racket to open a sponsor's marquee.

Stosur has made eight previous trips to Melbourne Park, but never passed the fourth round, and each campaign has heaped a little more pressure on her muscular shoulders.

Stosur survived some opening rounds before wilting during her match against eventual champion Serena Williams to end Australia's hopes for another year.

Being Australia's brightest grand slam prospect and seeing her blonde, freckled face up on billboards took its toll on Stosur, who admitted she had struggled to deal with her new profile.

But 12 months on, and confidently working a microphone in front of a huge media throng, nerves appeared in short supply for Stosur, who rates herself a chance to end her country's wait for a home champion since Chris O'Neil in 1978.

HEWITT BOOST

"Hopefully (the past year's) going to put me in a good position for this year's tournament," she said.

"The more time you get to experience this kind of attention and playing in front of these crowds can only help you.

"A lot of things have got to right for you to win a grand slam. You've got to play extremely well, maybe get a bit lucky sometimes and have all the pieces fall together.

"Hopefully the next 14 days can be that way for me but there's a long way to go from first round to winning the event but I'll definitely be doing everything I can to try and get there."

Stosur has taken the mantle of the country's top prospect from men's two-time grand slam champion Lleyton Hewitt, who will saddle up for a record 15th Australian Open campaign.

Hewitt is coming back after three months out with a hand injury and will carry a 54th ranking into the tournament, but the competitive fires still burn for the former 2001 U.S. Open and 2002 Wimbledon champion.

"At the moment I don't think it's going to be the last (campaign)," Hewitt told reporters.

"It's not something that I dwell on too much at all when I go out there... I enjoy walking through the corridors here at Melbourne Park, get excited every time I come here to not only play but also practice."

(Editing by John O'Brien)