TENNIS: Australian tennis legend Margaret Court fears Samantha Stosur's days of contending for grand slam titles could be over and feels mental struggles might have stopped her from becoming a "real champion” of the sport.
Stosur, 32, heads into the Australian Open, starting on Monday, without a win in almost five months and on the back of first-up defeats in Brisbane in Sydney. While she's achieved remarkable things in a brilliant career, the Queenslander has always struggled to produce her best tennis at home.
Court is the most decorated player in grand slam tennis history, winning a record 24 major titles from 1960 to 1973. She has been a vocal supporter of Stosur in the past, backing her to win last year's French Open when she stormed to the semis.
But asked about Stosur's prospects this year, Court said it was as if the 2011 US Open winner needed to change her approach.
"In tennis you can have all the strokes, you can have everything but it's your mind that's your battlefield,” Court told foxsports.com.au.
"I think you've got younger ones coming through ... I think Sam probably is now in it for a living. I don't know.
"Everybody expected a lot of her after winning the US Open and champions have got to keep coming up. Real champions stay there, they're not just winning one and then lose 10 in a row. Champions stay at the top and stay around the top four.
"She's got all the strokes but sometimes I think it doesn't matter how hard you train, it's just best to just walk away from it, have a break and come back and think 'well, I'm just going to enjoy this'.
"It shouldn't be just work, work, work and just thinking 'I'm hitting the ball well and then going out in a match and not playing well'. Then there's something wrong.”
World No.21 Stosur is drawn to begin her Australian Open against dangerous unseeded Brit Heather Watson.
Court also feels Australia's other seeded local women's hope, Daria Gavrilova, might be suffering from a lack of confidence heading into this year's event.
"I saw her at the Hopman Cup and I thought she was taking the ball a lot earlier last year and in control. This year she's on the back foot a lot more, I feel,” Court said of the 22nd seed, who reached the fourth round in Melbourne last year.
"I think she's got to just get out there and play the ball. Half the time you've just got to play the ball and stop looking at what people think or the expectation. You can only do your best.”
Court is delighted to see so many up-and-coming Aussie women getting a shot at the Open, rating 16-year-old wildcard Destanee Aiava as an exciting prospect.
"I've seen her play a couple of matches now and I'm impressed with her,” Court said.
"(Ashleigh) Barty's also made a good comeback. These girls - Destanee, Barty and Jaimee (Fourlis) - they've got an all-round game, which is lovely to see.”
Court, however, warned against expecting too much too soon and encouraged Aiava to try to play free of expectation.
"Destanee's got a lot of talent and I think the press need to back off a bit. They're putting such high expectations on her already,” Court said.
"She's got nothing to lose. Watching her play I just think 'don't put on any pressure on yourself'.
"I remember when I won my first Australian Open at 17. I wasn't expected to. I was coming up through the ranks and you're not expected to beat (the top women).
"I'd think, 'I've got nothing to lose and they have everything to lose'. That was my attitude and that's what come off - you can shock yourself, really.”