Melbourne: Once resembling a rabbit in the headlights of a nation`s expectations, a more assured Sam Stosur says she is happy to be the standard-bearer for Australia`s hopes for a first home grand slam champion in more than three decades.
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.
Expectations reached fever pitch in the lead-up to last year`s tournament after she emerged a surprise semi-finalist at Roland Garros and ended the year with her first title at Osaka.
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.
"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.