Before that deciding fifth rubber in Brisbane, we’d never played a doubles match together; only six or seven games in practice during that week. But it was kind of ‘all right, we’re going in’.
I lost to Vika (Azarenka) pretty easily in the reverse singles on the Sunday, so even though I thought I was still going to be playing the dubs, I did ask the question: ‘So, am I playing?’. Alicia and Ash looked at me and were like ‘Ah, yeah! Get ready’. So I did. Quickly.
To be thrown out there just half an hour after that singles match and be able to play as well as we did together, it certainly didn’t feel like it was the first time we’d played, by any means, which is exactly what you want in that situation.
There were so many great rallies, there was so much excitement – and that crowd, that was seriously one of the best Fed Cup experiences and moments that I’ve had, and I’ve played a lot of matches.
It was quite different playing with Ash compared to my regular partner Zhang Shuai. They are both great partners and fantastic competitors but with very different personalities.
One thing that I had to get used to was Ash using signals and I never use signals in my matches, but it was obviously a great experience for both of us.
Ash has shown she can play under pressure, and she’s such a great reader of tennis, in singles or doubles, no matter what the situation, that you kind of knew ‘all right, if I’m going move there, she’s going have my back, and move to the right spot’ and vice versa. It obviously helps when you’re playing with someone who’s just such a good instinctual player.
Advice for ‘2003 Sam’
This will be my last Fed Cup match in Australia. I’m pretty certain I can say that with the format changes coming in next season.
I’ve been through Asia-Oceania qualifying rounds and been in World Group II and I’ve done it all for these years of Fed Cup, so now to be able to have this last opportunity in a home final before the Fed Cup moves to a neutral finals venue – Budapest – for 2020 makes it even more special if we do win.
For a long time when I was the No.1 player, I often felt the pressure and responsibility to get the team over the line in these Fed Cup ties, so I know how Ash will be feeling in Perth as the No.1. We’ve got great depth in Aussie women’s tennis and our team right now, so fingers crossed, we can finish on a high.
I would think there’s a good chance that I’ll be playing dubs, at least, and I would definitely love the opportunity to play singles again. I’ll be putting my hand up for that.
Even now I’m still doing all my training thinking I am going to play a singles match, because I want to be absolutely prepared if that does happen. But if it doesn’t, then I’ll be out there on the sidelines doing my best to support whoever is playing.
That’s how it was when I started, and how it’s been for all the years I’ve represented Australia. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but I’d tell ‘2003 Sam’ to hang in there because she would play a final one day. Absolutely.
That’s probably what I should say to some of the younger girls this week: you’ve been in one now, cherish it, because it may not happen for a long time, but it will happen again.
I definitely want to continue playing on the WTA next year. Reaching the final in Guangzhou in September proved to me that I could still match it with the best singles players in the world. My ranking had dropped, so coming so close to a singles title really lifted my confidence and brought me back into the Top 100.
I definitely want to keep playing some singles while it’s possible, and the Guangzhou result showed me that I’m capable of producing my best tennis when it matters.
I want to obviously try and do well in January, and see what I can do for the rest of the year, but I’d still love to play the main draw of the French Open and the other slams in 2020 and be at those tournaments and see what’s possible.
That’s where I love to play, and on those courts, all of that. So I’m going to keep going and we’ll reassess next year. As for this one, there would be no better way to finish than by winning a Fed Cup final at home.