Stosur feels her way with new coach

Sam Stosur's initial December training session with Miles Maclagan felt a little like the first date with a new partner after the end of a long marriage.

Stosur's six years with David Taylor produced an extended stay in the top 10 and two grand slam singles finals for one glorious US Open title before, in August, the close and fruitful collaboration was deemed to have run its course.

Enter Maclagan, the 39-year-old former coach of Andy Murray, Marcos Baghdatis and Laura Robson, who has spent the past four weeks in Sydney preparing Stosur for a season that starts at this week's Hopman Cup. And if it is too soon to tell if there will be a honeymoon period, the getting-to-know-you stage has been progressing encouragingly well.

''Obviously I spent heaps of time with Dave, not just on the court but off the court, and we had a really good relationship as far as all that goes, so it is different,'' says Stosur of her new arrangement.

''I guess you're trying to start that all again with someone else, and I really didn't know Miles very well - I mean, enough to say hi, and you might be at a table together with mutual friends at a tournament or whatever, but that's really all.

''So, not only are you on the court and trying to trust him in a lot of ways with your career now, but also off the court you're finding out, 'Oh, OK, this guy's actually all right, and we get along well and it's easy', and all that. So that's all part of it.''

Another part, inevitably, is the different style and focus that come with a new coach, even if the intention is to tinker rather than overhaul. Change, though, is the unofficial theme of Stosur's summer, as she follows a new route to Melbourne Park in the hope of ending a series of highly scrutinised failures at a place where she has never passed the fourth round.

So far, practice sessions have been intense and professional, but lighthearted enough that Maclagan will occasionally rip a winner past Stosur just because, well, he can. There is also a slightly different emphasis than before; Taylor was renowned for his meticulous focus on patterns, whereas Maclagan is encouraging Stosur to follow her instincts a little more.

''Miles is probably not quite as into, 'OK, we're gonna hit here, then hit here, and then you're gonna get this ball and then you're gonna do that','' says Stosur. ''It's a little bit more like we'll do a few general drills and then we're playing and it's, 'If you see that shot, or you want to go for that drop shot, or you wanna hit this here instead, then do it'.

''He's very big on what I'm feeling and what I see being open in the court, but at the same time there was a rally I played with one of the [junior] boys the other day and he was like, 'So, why did you go for that ball down the line then?' and I said, 'Well, 'cos I kinda wanted to hit a winner'. And then you talk about it and he's, 'Well, it maybe wasn't quite the right shot'. Little things like that.

''So it's 'go for what you feel', but at the same time, I don't think he's gonna hesitate to say, 'You know what, Sam? That [shot] probably wasn't on'. So I want him to feel that he can tell me whatever it is, good or bad. I've got him here because I want to hear what he has to say. It's all about trying to help me improve.''

And, in Australia, needing to, after the two summers of disappointment that followed her 2011 US Open success. In 2012, carrying the heavy baggage that comes with being a recent, momentous, and rather unexpected major winner, Stosur won just one of her four matches in a dispiriting tour of the eastern seaboard.

Most recently, entering 2013 underprepared after November ankle surgery, she followed first-up exits in Brisbane and Sydney with a crushing loss to Zheng Jie in the second round at Melbourne Park after leading 5-2 in the third set.

On the hard-to-swallow scale, the Zheng choke ranks right up there, Stosur admits, and so it is little wonder that her friend and Fed Cup coach Alicia Molik has predicted that a more relaxed world No.18 will go in this time with the liberating attitude that surely she can do no worse.

''Well, compared to last year, I probably can't!'' Stosur laughs. ''At the end of the year, or during [the Asian swing], it was kinda like, 'You know what? Just give yourself a bit of a break; go out there and play and enjoy it, work on a few things and when you walk off the court, ask did I achieve what I wanted to achieve; win or lose, yes or no? Then, OK, what have I got to do better next time, and that's what I'm going to do and make it, really, kind of about that'.

''I do enjoy playing in front of the home crowd, but I think I could probably relax and let myself kind of flow with it a little bit more. There's no point being uptight. I can't do worse than probably what I did last year, so let's learn from it and try and do better, and enjoy that process. But I can only do what I can do.''

Stosur emphasises her schedule change (Out: Brisbane and Sydney. In: Perth and Hobart) is not about chasing a mythical secret formula, but simply about trying something different.

The round-robin Hopman Cup format guarantees at least three singles and mixed doubles matches with fellow Queenslander Bernard Tomic, while the small Tasmanian tournament has nothing like the profile - or playing depth - of its WTA sister at Homebush Bay in Sydney.

So far, Maclagan - who has declined all interview requests since his November appointment - has taken a watchful approach, the former world No.172 having had far more experience coaching men than women, as well as limited firsthand exposure to Stosur's heavy, but sometimes low-percentage, game.

But, for example, he is trying to build confidence in her weaker backhand side so she does not routinely run around to hit forehands that may not be on.

Generally, both are still feeling their way, yet if the fact that Stosur is also feeling, and sounding, optimistic is a familiar refrain, then perhaps what may be different this January is that lowered expectations will free Stosur to play here closer to the way she can, and so badly wants to.

''I definitely have tried to change things up this year and I'm gonna go out there, play all my events and hopefully do better than what I have before,'' she says. ''At the end of the day, I know that if I play well and I play to my potential, then I can have a good summer. I've just got to make that happen.''

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