Sam Stosur’s Grand Slam win at the U.S. Open may take the Australian from the tennis outback to a place among the local sporting elite.
Stosur, 27, upset three-time champion Serena Williams 6-2, 6-3 yesterday to become the first Australian woman in 31 years to win a major singles title. It was the first time the nation had claimed the women’s championship in New York since Margaret Court in 1973.
The win will boost Stosur’s profile and earning potential in a country that hadn’t had a Grand Slam champion since Lleyton Hewitt won Wimbledon in 2002, according to sports marketers. She’s the third straight women’s player to capture her first major this year after China’s Li Na took the French Open and Czech Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon.
“She should be making a substantial chunk of her money from Australia, no different from Greg Norman, for example,” James Erskine, chief executive officer of Sydney-based Sports & Entertainment Ltd., said in a phone interview. “I would be surprised if she didn’t get some substantial sponsorships. She’s obviously now gone to another stage.”
Stosur, a native of Brisbane in Queensland state, ranked 15th among Australia’s highest-paid sports stars in 2010 with earnings of A$2.8 million ($2.9 million), according to Business Review Weekly magazine. She was the top female athlete on the annual list, headed by Formula One driver Mark Webber with earnings of A$13.4 million.
Her seven sponsors include tennis equipment maker Babolat, apparel company Lacoste, Luxottica Group SpA (LUX)’s Oakley eyewear brand and vitamin maker Usana Health Sciences Inc. (USNA), according to her website.
The win puts Stosur in a position to be able to attract more deals, said Craig Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Elite Sports Properties.
“She might get three to four other partners where she could be earning anywhere between a quarter and half a million dollars each,” Kelly said in a phone interview from Melbourne. “There should be some great opportunities for her.”
Yesterday’s win, her third singles title on the elite women’s circuit, is worth $1.8 million in prize money alone.
While the victory will help Stosur attract more local and tennis-specific endorsement contracts, she’ll need to capture more Grand Slam titles to become a global marketing asset, said Steve Rosner, co-founder of Rutherford, New Jersey-based 16W Marketing LLC.
“Winning one is fine, but to really take the next step in being a marketable athlete you’ve got to do it on a consistent basis,” Rosner said in a phone interview. “It means more to her in her home country.”
Stosur’s victory already made its mark in her homeland, where the match began at 6.30 a.m. on Australia’s east coast. About an hour after she clinched the title, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard issued a statement congratulating Stosur on her “outstanding tournament.”
“Her win will encourage the next generation of young Australian players to take to the court,” Gillard said.
Craig Tiley, director of tennis at Tennis Australia and the Australian Open’s tournament director, was one of about 40 people to gather early this morning at Melbourne Park, the site of the season-opening major, to watch the final. He said Stosur’s Grand Slam breakthrough had come earlier than expected.
Down and Out
“She’s good enough to win, but we’re looking at 2012, ‘13, ’14 and ‘15 as being Sam’s years,” Tiley said in a phone interview. “It wasn’t long ago that Sam was down in the doldrums and out. No one was really interested in her at that point. I think there are more Grand Slams to follow.”
Stosur, a former top-ranked doubles player, is the first Australian woman to win one of the four Slams since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980 at Wimbledon. She was playing in her second major final, having finished as runner-up to Francesca Schiavone of Italy at the 2010 French Open.
“She can only go on further from here,” the 60-year-old Goolagong Cawley, who won seven Grand Slam titles, said at a televised news conference in Canberra. “This is going to be a great boost for her. She’s been in finals before and hasn’t been able to pull it off. This is that next step forward. It will give her so much more confidence.”
Stosur began playing at age 8 when a friend gave her a tennis racket as a Christmas present. She joined the Australian Institute of Sport at 16 and turned pro in 1999, reaching the WTA Tour’s No. 1 ranking in doubles seven years later.
She was sidelined for 10 months after contracting Lyme disease in July 2007 and didn’t return to the women’s circuit until June 2008. She claimed her first WTA singles title in Osaka the following year.
Stosur had spent over four more hours on court than 13-time major winner Williams going into yesterday’s final. She won the longest recorded U.S. Open women’s match since 1970 against Nadia Petrova in the third round and featured in a Grand Slam- singles record 32-point tiebreaker against Maria Kirilenko in the round of 16.
“She’s that kind of a tenacious, resilient, person,” Troy Ayres, the development manager at Tennis Australia in Queensland, said in a phone interview. “Sam’s such an absolutely down-to-earth person, people will really identify with her. She’ll certainly draw more people to the game.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Iain Wilson at email@example.com