Wollongong: Samantha Stosur’s home struggles have reached new lows, with the former grand slam champion suffering her worst loss in Australia.
Making her Fed Cup singles debut, world No.210 Lesley Kerkhove humbled Stosur 7-5, 7-6 (7-1) on Saturday to earn the Netherlands a shock early lead in their World Group playoff in Wollongong.
Shocking result: Lesley Kerkhove and Sam Stosur shake hands after their match.
Ashleigh Barty put the hosts back on level terms with a 6-0, 6-2 dispatch of Quirine Lemoine but Australian captain Alicia Molik said Stosur would be rested for Sunday’s reverse singles in favour of Daria Gavrilova.
Despite being the most-prolific singles winner in Australian Fed Cup history, Stosur last won a singles rubber on home soil in 2014.
The 34-year-old has also endured first-week exits from the Australian Open in 15 of her 17 trips to Melbourne Park, including first-round defeats for the past three years.
But few could have scripted Saturday’s straight-sets shocker.
‘‘Look, obviously a tough match,’’ the world No.58 said after chalking up 30 unforced errors in her ill-fated return to national service after almost two years in exile.
‘‘There were points of time where I was playing really well and executing really well and other times where it wasn’t quite working for me.
‘‘So I guess still playing at that level of being good enough more of the time is something I need to keep striving for.’’
Kerkhove said she relished playing the underdog role but Stosur refused to blame the pressure of expectation for her sub-par showing.
‘‘It’s obviously not a situation I’ve not experienced before,’’ the one-time world No.4 and US Open champion said.
‘‘I obviously knew what the occasion was and gave it everything I had but it wasn’t quite enough.
‘‘I’ll bounce back. That’s the beauty of a team competition – you get another chance the next day.’’
That chance for Stosur will come partnering Barty in the potentially tie-deciding doubles against Demi Schuurs and Indy de Vroome.
But Molik insisted that was alway the plan and, standing by her decision not to play Gavrilova on Saturday, the skipper said Australia’s former long-time spearhead had by no means been dropped.
‘‘Her practice right throughout the week, as always, has just been perfect in terms of her preparation and getting herself ready as possible,’’ Molik said.
‘‘She didn’t win today. That’s OK. I’m really proud of what she left on the court and that’s what I knew I could expect from Sam.
‘‘It didn’t go her way today but the way she carries herself, she’s always looking for extra, she’s always looking to improve – she hasn’t let the team down.’’
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