SAM Stosur won almost as many matches this year as last, and more than before, she believes, while playing below her best. But Stosur failed to win a title, and two strong grand slam runs were balanced with early exits at both Wimbledon and Melbourne Park, to which the former US Open champion will return next month with more sober public expectations but a resolute determination to succeed.
Despite dropping from sixth to ninth in 2012, Stosur remains - by far - Australia's highest-ranked player, the only woman or man to pass the fourth-round stage at a major or to reach multiple tour-level finals. She is the heavy favourite on Monday night to claim a third consecutive Newcombe Medal, from a list of finalists that includes top-100 trio Marinko Matosevic, Lleyton Hewitt and Casey Dellacqua, but no Bernard Tomic, the world No. 52.
After a short post-season break, Stosur's preparations for 2013 have already started with coach David Taylor in Sydney, and the 28-year-old will draw on the painful but valuable learning experience of a near-barren run through the last Australian summer when her new year dawns at the Brisbane International in four weeks.
''I'm looking forward to it,'' Stosur said of her scheduled return to the Brisbane and Sydney internationals and the Australian Open, where she faltered in the second, first and first rounds respectively in 2012. ''As much as what last year was a bit of a disaster [in Australia], I'm certainly not afraid to go back there and play again. I think that's a really good positive sign that you want to be there, and I have played pretty well there in the past. I think it's just a matter of playing tennis, and that's certainly something I did not do last year. I wanted it this way, and it wasn't right, and then it was almost like I tried too hard for it, so you've just got to keep it really simple: 'This is the opponent, this is what I'm going to do, these are the tactics', and really try and make it 'that's what it's all about'.
''It's a lot easier said than done, but I think that's something I really need to try and stick to, and in the whole pre-season know what I want to try and do, how I'm going to approach it, and work it all out, and have another good shot at it next year.''
After a 0-2 record at the season-ending WTA Championships took her season's work to 44-24, Stosur rated her year as a seven out of 10. It was, she said, more disappointing than the past two, but it is also relative. ''It's easy to say it hasn't been great, but I've had lots of semis, lots of quarters, and you win a couple more of those throughout the year and you're probably looking at quite a bit more positive outlook,'' she said. ''So it's one of those things, and I guess that's part of always trying to improve and do better and play better, and you're not satisfied unless you're ticking all the boxes, almost, with what you're trying to play for.''
She had, she said, ''probably won more matches this year playing pretty ordinary tennis than what I have ever before. Especially at the start of the year, it was pretty tough. But I think I fought through some matches that I was down and not playing well, and that has always been kind of a struggle for me. I won a lot of the close three-setters, and that's definitely one area that I've improved, but there's still lots I think I can get better at.''