Australia’s newest world tennis No.1 is on course to reach her nirvana by winning an Olympic medal at the 2024 Paris Games, writes Editor at Large Louise Evans
Get used to hearing about Storm Hunter – a one-time wonderkid with a Superhero name who grew up in a Rockhampton pub and who’s just scored one of the biggest wins of her career at the Australian Open.
In the rarified world of elite tennis players Hunter is as down to earth as the surfboard she doesn’t have time to ride after climbing to No.1 on the world doubles rankings late last year.
In her break-through 2023 year, Hunter won almost half of her career prize money, banking $1.1m to take her total tennis earnings to $2.67m, prize money won predominantly on the world’s doubles courts.
It’s been a dramatic turnaround for a 29-year-old leftie who a few years ago was sidelined with a near career-ending shoulder injury.
She was down to her last $1000 and being supported by her boyfriend, now husband, Loughlin Hunter who was able to quit his job as an account manager and travel the international tennis circuit with her in 2023.
Come the 2024 Australian Open, Hunter added another $433,750 to her bank balance by winning through to the third round in singles for the first time at her home grand slam ($255,000), after fighting her way through the qualifying rounds ($65,000). In the doubles, she fought through to semi finals with Czech partner Katerina Siniakova and added another $113,750 in prize money to her pool.
Her mum Genene and dad Michael Sanders flew over from Perth to be courtside in the Kia Arena to watch her singles breakthrough, along with Loughlin and long-time coach, former No.1 Australian player Nicole Pratt.
It’s been a long road for Hunter’s parents too. About 25 years ago they were living upstairs in Rockhampton’s one-time Grand Hotel, then owned by Hunter’s grandmother.
“My parents had no money. They were hard workers. They knew I had this (tennis career) dream, and they joined the military to try and give us a better life and a better opportunity,” Hunter said.
“We relocated to WA. I spent a lot of times in my childhood not seeing my parents because they were sacrificing their time with me and my brother to give us that support. They’ve always been so supportive of my career and I think they believed in me more than I ever believed in myself.”
Hunter’s immediate schedule in Melbourne is full, with doubles on Tuesday with new partner Katerina Siniakova from the Czech Republic. Siniakova is currently ranked 13 in doubles and was the world No.1 doubles player in 2018, 2021 and 2022.
Then it’s back to the singles court on Wednesday and then mixed doubles with fellow Australian Matthew Ebden.
Hunter’s plan is to get her singles rankings of 180 inside the top 130 to gain automatic entry into the next three 2024 grand slams and to maintain her No.1 world doubles rankings with her new partner.
Looking further ahead, her nirvana is the 2024 Paris Olympics and the realistic dream of winning an Olympic medal in the doubles or mixed doubles (with Ebden).
Hunter feels at home on the clay as her only other grand slam singles victory before Melbourne was in the first round of the 2023 French Open at Roland Garros, which will be the venue for the Paris Olympics.
“For me the Olympics is a priority,” Hunter said. “That’s definitely a huge goal for me. I would love to medal at the Olympics. Obviously winning gold would be incredible but any medal would be amazing.
“As a kid with Sydney 2000, everyone was inspired by that and wanted to be an Olympian. That’s been something that I’ve wanted to do my whole life. To win a medal would be a huge honour. It would be amazing. For me an Olympic medal is higher (than a grand slam title). I think being an Australian athlete and an Australian growing up, that to me is everything.
“Before I played tennis, I kind of wanted to be an Olympian. I played every single sport as a kid and kind of just fell into tennis and loved it when I picked up the racquet when I was six in Rocky.
“That would be a dream come true. I think it’s because it’s not just for you. It’s for your country. Your name is on there, but it’s like you’ve done that for Australia, and I’m a very proud Australian. I think I play my best tennis when I’m representing the green and gold.”
Louise Evans is an award-winning journalist who has worked around Australia and the world as a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and media executive for media platforms including The Sydney Morning Herald (eight years), The Australian (11 years) and Australian Associated Press (six years in London, Beijing and Sydney).
A women sports’ pioneer, Louise was the first female sports journalist employed by The Sydney Morning Herald and the first female sports editor at The Australian. Louise went on to work at six Olympic Games, six Commonwealth Games and numerous world sporting championships and grand slam tennis events.
Louise is the Founding Editor of AAP FactCheck, the Creator of #WISPAA – Women in Sport Photo Action Awards and national touring Exhibition and the author and producer of the Passage to Pusan book, documentary and exhibition.
In 2019 she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) Queen’s Honour for services to the media and sport and named an Australian Financial Review Top 100 Woman of Influence for services to the arts, culture and sport.
In 2020 she won a NSW Volunteer of the Year Award plus the NSW Government Community Service Award for her women-in-sport advocacy work.