In the fall of 2015, when Zhang Shuai was down in the dumps and pondering retirement, it was her good friend Samantha Stosur who convinced her to keep plugging away. Six years on, Zhang has returned the favor by helping give the Australian champion a new lease on her career.
Stosur and Zhang captured the 2020 US Open, their first major title, before the pandemic paused the tour and grounded Stosur at home in Australia. With Zhang committed to preparing for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics with other Chinese players, the duo finally paired up again before Cincinnati. They have not lost since.
On Sunday, Stosur and Zhang capped off their successful reunion, winning 11 consecutive matches to follow up their win at the Western & Southern Open by capturing their second major title at the US Open. Having advanced to the final without losing a set, Stosur/Zhang defeated the teenage duo of Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to win their fourth team title.
The win vaults Zhang to No.14 and Stosur to No.21 in the doubles rankings, and surges them up 18 spots to No.4 on the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals. As a result of the rankings boost, Stosur can put off her retirement plans for a little bit longer. The 37-year-old Queenslander is now assured direct entry into the tour's biggest events next year.
Sam Stosur after 1R: "I still want to play next year a bit, perhaps. I haven’t really decided yet. I think my ranking will determine a lot of that as far as singles goes. So we’ll see what happens in January.— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 3, 2021
"But if that’s my last singles match, then that’s the way it is."
"For sure we will play more together because the last one and a half years, [I had] to prepare for the Olympic Games," Zhang told reporters. "In our country, we have to play with a Chinese player. That's why we separated, not because [of anything else] we not play together. We are so good friends, forever.
"When we're on court, no matter we win or lose - yes, today we won - but some days we lost, it's OK. We still happy on court. Now nothing can break us, I think. We will for sure play together more. I think we are not [going to] play every tournament. We try to keep healthy [so] we can play longer."
Stosur and Zhang sat down with WTA Insider after their New York triumph to reflect on their win and what it means for their future.
WTA Insider: How much momentum did you feel you took from Cincinnati into New York? You didn't lose a set until the final and have now won 11 straight matches.
Stosur: To win 11 straight matches through these two tournaments is amazing. In Cincy, we did start off slow in most of our matches and got through some really tough moments in super-tiebreaks and match points down and came back. I think that absolutely helped us in this event. Then we got on a roll. Luckily we didn't have too many three-setters this week, just today.
I think all those tough times in Cincy absolutely helped us win this title. We knew that we could dig deep and stick together and play as a team and fight to the very last point today. No matter what was going on, we were going to do our thing. If they won, they were going to have to play very well. We proved that we could handle the pressure moments and stick it out. Just a great feeling to serve it out in the end.
WTA Insider: You had a couple of tough moments in the final. You had a potential break opportunity in the second set and they held you off to force a third, and then there was the big hold from Zhang, saving break points, in the middle of the third. Having not lost a set through the tournament, how tricky were those pressure moments?
Stosur: It's not like it was the first time we had been under pressure. No matter what happens, we knew what we were going to do at any moment. We could sense little opportunities.
When Shuai held serve in that third set, we knew that with Caty serving that was probably our opportunity. It wasn't an easy game to break by any means, but we just really tried to give it everything we had in that game.
Our first match point, when I was running down that lob, I don't think I've ever tried to run down a lob that hard in my life (laughs). I didn't get it, but ...
WTA Insider: Your visor flew off. That's the speed that you were hitting.
Stosur: I was busting my legs to try and get there.
Then you just back yourself again. Every day in practice, we knew what we wanted to do in big moments. That's why you practice and that's why you play.
WTA Insider: Zhang Shuai, did you have any "sixth sense" moments during this tournament?
Zhang: Of course. Before the tournament, I told Sam I don't have this trophy yet. Last year, I saw Bethanie do videos with other players and in the back were so many nice trophies. I liked the US Open one. I wanted it.
I told Sam, I like this one, do you have it? She said, I already have it, but it's in my mom's house. My mom one day told me, hey Sam, you still have a trophy at my house. I think you should get it.
Sam said, "It's OK, leave it there. I'll just win another one."
WTA Insider: That's what happens when you have so many trophies.
Stosur: No, no, no. That was just manifestation (laughs).
Zhang: Yesterday before I went back to the transportation to go to the hotel, I was looking at this trophy and I found Sam's name there. I said OK, 16 years ago Sam's name is on here. This year, Sam's name and my name will be there. I want it. If I really want something, we can always get it.
WTA Insider: Sam, you've in the fourth month of a long trip away from your family. Zhang Shuai, you opted to play the US Open over the China National Games. How much does this win feel like vindication for those sacrifices?
Zhang: Keep playing tennis! Before this, we had no ranking, no points to keep playing. Now we can play one more year. So amazing.
WTA Insider: On that note, you're both in contention for the WTA Finals.
Stosur: Shuai keeps telling me we might get in, but I had no intention of playing after the US Open.
If we make it, that's incredible, but it's certainly kept us going for another year. I didn't know what was going to happen next year. I knew I wanted to play Australia and then after that, who knows? Now that we're winning Grand Slams it certainly makes you want to keep going even more.
It's amazing to be playing with Shuai. Good times, bad times, winning, losing, it doesn't matter, we enjoy it. This is just icing on the cake to be taking the trophy home.
Zhang: I still don't have Wimbledon and French Open! I want, but we could not play together the last year.
WTA Insider: Well now that your ranking is high. If Sam wants to play, you can do it.
Stosur: Watch out, 2022.
Zhang: Sam's so nice. Always waiting for me. Other players wouldn't wait for me anymore. Sam. How nice a person. The best.