After charging up the rankings Storm Hunter now has to fight to protect her singles and doubles careers, and Paris Olympic medal prospects, while carrying the hopes of the nation, writes Editor at Large Louise Evans
Australia’s leading female player Storm Hunter will be able to bank roll her burgeoning singles career after collecting a $433,750 cheque and a cash load of confidence following her breakthrough success at the Australian Open.
Hunter was already the world’s No.1 doubles player with $US2.67m in prize money and a doubles medal favourite for the Paris Olympics before arriving in Melbourne where she stamped her authority in a grand slam singles draw for the first time.
The 27-year-old, who started playing tennis while growing up in a Rockhampton pub, battled through qualifying to the third round where she collected more than 50 rankings points to climb No.129 in the world. Top-ranked players, including former world number one Justine Henin, are now spruiking her as a world top 50 contender.
Hunter’s quantum leap whipped up great excitement at Melbourne Park with crowds quick to adopt a new hero with a superhero name to replace the much-loved former world number one and fellow Queenslander Ash Barty, who retired suddenly from the game two years ago.
Hunter is old enough and experienced enough to know what her Great Leap Forward – progressing past the first round at the Australian Open for the first time – really means. And not just for her career but for the health of Australian women’s tennis and a country craving a female tennis star.
“Playing at home in Australia, it’s very easy for me to do that because I’m doing it not for myself, but for the country, I guess, which a lot of people would find maybe more pressure, but I actually find it easier,” the left-handed Hunter said.
“It’s been really nice to have everyone excited about women’s tennis in Australia. To me that’s more important than myself I think, the growth of women’s tennis in Australia.
“I hope this year I’m top 100 and in the main draw and that we have a handful of girls inside the top 100 as well.”
Hunter now faces a difficult balancing act, shouldering the hopes of the nation while juggling her emerging singles and lucrative doubles careers while maintaining form for the Paris Olympics, which start in late July. She also reached the semi-finals of the doubles at the Australian Open with Czech partner Katerina Siniakova, which added another $113,750 in prize money to the $255,000 she won in singles plus the $65,000 she collected for qualifying at Melbourne Park.
“I’ve done a really good job to get myself to No. 1 in the world in doubles, I don’t want to give that up too easily,” she said. “But I’m definitely not young anymore, I’m not planning on playing forever. While my body is feeling good, I do want to give singles a good crack. I’m really lucky to have (coach) Nicole Pratt in my corner. Hopefully she can travel with me a little bit this year to help with my singles, which would be awesome.
“I’m definitely trying to fit in more singles weeks so I’m going to have to sacrifice some doubles here and there. Haven’t quite worked that out yet, but I think once we finish here, we’ll sit down and reassess the schedule. When you’re playing for your country it means so much more.”
Australia’s world top 10 Alex De Minaur was impressed with the form Hunter showed while playing with him in the season-opening United Cup and believes she’s poised for more singles success.
“I thought it was unbelievable and the tennis she played throughout the whole of United Cup,” de Minaur said. “It’s a pretty amazing achievement what she’s accomplished.”
Former world number one Justine Henin is also in awe of Hunter’s late bloom. “It’s just a beautiful story,” Henin told Eurosport. “She’s now playing every main draw at a grand slam at 29-years old and is number one in the world at doubles, and you can feel in her the passion and the resilience that she has had in her career.”
Coach Pratt, another Queenslander from Mackay and former world No.35, not only helps keep Hunter grounded but has some sage advice about the difficult scheduling decisions ahead and commitment needed over the next six months leading into the Paris Olympics.
Pratt, now 50 and a former US Open semi finalist, believes one of the best motivations is patriotic passion – Hunter’s passion to play for her country and the passion Australian crowds show her on court.
“Pratty was like — you know, at the end of the day, she doesn’t have to do any coaching,” Hunter said. “She was just, like, You’re an Aussie. Come on. Be tough, be tough. Good energy. That’s all you need to do. Just fight out there.”
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.