What happens when you pair an infant with a cat accustomed to ruling the household? In late 2020, Sam Stosur and her partner Liz Astling decided to put that question to the test with their two bundles of joy, Genevieve (Evie) and Jetboy.
In a year filled with extraordinary challenges, the two little ones provided the couple a refreshing getaway from the reality swelling outside their walls in Melbourne. As Stosur and Astling soon learned, their first born and beloved pet already shared much in common: innocence, curiosity, sincerity and cooperation.
“We picked Jetboy up and brought him over. Then Evie started patting him and was just giggling her head off,” Stosur shared with TENNIS.com in December. “She thought it was the funniest thing, just touching his fur because it was something new and different. He kind of looked up and was like, ‘alright, fine. I’ll let her do it just this once.’ They’ll definitely be friends in time to come. It is nice seeing her kind of react to him.”
Moments like this one have served as the ultimate silver lining for Stosur. With Astling expecting in mid-June, Stosur initially grappled with thoughts like, ‘I hope I can get home in time,’ due to a heavy calendar of tournaments in Europe. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic stepped in.
Stosur competed at the $125k event in Indian Wells, held the week ahead of the BNP Paribas Open. Before the main event was due to begin, officials pulled the plug after a positive coronavirus case in the area was announced. Stosur flew home, opting to take a few weeks off to see how the escalating situation played out. The 2011 US Open champion watched as Roland Garros shifted back to a September start and Wimbledon came off the calendar for the first time in 75 years.
As lockdown measures intensified, Stosur kept in shape by taking home a bike and weights provided by Tennis Australia’s gym to use in her backyard. Later, there were trips to Arina Rodionova’s house for occasional “fun” hits on her countrywoman’s synthetic grass court, but with no tournaments to prepare for and motherhood to focus on, Stosur was where she needed—and wanted—to be.
“Talk about timing. I ended up being here for months in the lead up and everything afterwards,” Stosur says. “That’s been a blessing in disguise for me, to not have that pressure to go and compete, or feel like I have to get ready, or anything like that. I’ve been able to fully enjoy being here for every single day. It’s been a really happy time.”
Fear of missing out is one harsh reality athletes must face once becoming parents. It’s especially difficult for tennis players, who, depending on scheduling, spend more than half of their year on the road. There are no home games or homestands to counterbalance the rigors of their job, just infrequent chances to play on home soil if so privileged.
Having opted out of the remainder of the 2020 season once the WTA reopened in early August, Stosur developed a deeper appreciation for witnessing the milestones Evie reached in her first six months.
“When people miss out on a lot these things, especially if it’s your first child, you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how it’s going to be or when things are going to happen. So you’re kind of naïve in that way,” Stosur reflects. “Maybe you don’t know what you’re missing out on. But when you’ve experienced it, you think, ‘Geez, I’m so glad I’m here and was able to.’ I could not imagine having to get on a flight a few weeks after she was born and do it all over FaceTime. I do feel very, very fortunate in that respect.”
While her days at home were full of time with loved ones, Stosur didn’t completely shut off her tennis brain. She occasionally flipped on the TV to check out the US Open and Roland Garros. She jumped on weekly calls with the WTA to keep tabs on current events. Most recently, the 36-year-old was understandably keen to monitor advancements with 2021's Australian summer schedule—though didn’t overly invest in the information, with how often it changed.
Ranked No. 112 heading into the new season, and expecting another year of unexpected twists and turns, Stosur isn’t getting caught up in setting specific goals.
“For me right now, I’m just looking at whatever we can play in Australia. If that’s the Australian Open… one lead-in event to the Australian… another event afterwards. I’ll obviously make that a huge priority to be as ready as I can be to get the year started in a good way and then see where things are after that,” she says.
“Without putting too much thought into the way the calendar should fall, if you can get to the Slams, the major events and use your schedule in that way, that would be a real positive outcome to the year. You gotta maybe cut it down quarter by quarter and see how things are traveling, how bad the virus is in different parts of the world.”
As Stosur points out, navigating the calendar will have different levels of complexity based on a player’s local laws. It’s unknown how long Australians will require exemptions to leave for overseas events and be mandated to two-week hotel quarantines upon returning. Does one stay away for a longer period to maximize playing opportunities? Every Aussie will need to be conscientious of their scheduling decisions for that simple conundrum, believes Stosur.
“I was laughing the other day,” Stosur says. “Somebody put a post up saying bring on January 1st, 2021 like all of this is suddenly going to disappear because we flick over to a New Year. I think 2021 is still going to be very difficult for the tours, for players to move around freely.
“It’s one of those things everyone will have to assess on a daily or weekly basis, where you’re at, where you can travel to, where makes the most sense to go and kind of not be so stuck to a schedule like we probably normally are. I think as tennis players in general, compared to a lot of sports, we are quite flexible because of the conditions we play in.”
Going with the flow has always been one of Stosur’s commendable traits. It’s been elevated to the next level for the new mom, who has been shaped by two forces during her time away from the tour: the persuasiveness of cuteness overload, and legitimacy of volatile sleep schedules.
“You’d get absolutely nothing done even if you only had a couple things around the house you wanted to try and get done. You just couldn’t do it!,” Stosur laughed. “My friends and brother who [have children] would all say how you can lose a whole day just basically staring and looking at them. I was like, ‘whatever, surely that’s a bit ridiculous.’ Now I’ve experienced it.
“Days just flew by. Weeks just flew by sometimes and you don’t know where they went. Every week it changes. Whether it’s not sleeping, or that she finally sleeps. A couple of weeks ago we were up until 5:30 in the morning, because she would not go down.”
Thanks to Evie’s unpredictability, time in a trying period for most has hardly stopped for the former world No. 4. One can hope it slows down once Stosur is back in business, for her presence has been missed—on court and in the press room.