The most pressing question to answer Tuesday was not an easy one: What causes Samantha Stosur to show a little emotion?
A double-fault or a mis-hit wasn't going to do it. Another ace off her booming serve didn't do the trick, either. Even an easy 6-1, 6-1 win against first-round opponent Kyung-Mi Chang in the Taylor Infiniti USTA Challenge wasn't enough to force a grin across her lips.
To make the Australian smile, you'd need to ask about her birthday.
It was Monday - she turned 20 - and her host family took her to T-Bonz Steakhouse and presented her with a big birthday cake.
On Tuesday, she feasted on her Korean opponent, keeping her face emotionless behind her Oakley sunglasses.
Stosur will not show her passion, will not get excited on the court. That presumed apathy, she said, is part of her job description.
She can grin about her birthday, not about her tennis.
"I try not to get frustrated out there," Stosur said after her match at The Club at Raes Creek. "Anytime you see an opponent get annoyed, that just lets you know that you're doing something right."
Against Chang, Stosur did most everything right.
After allowing Chang, ranked 333th in the world, the first game of the match, Stosur watched as her opponent unsuccessfully disputed a call to the umpire and became more frustrated.
Stosur pounced, reeling off 10 straight games to end Chang's chances in the 55-minute match.
Chang's frustration gave Stosur a boost of confidence. Stosur is not willing to return the favor to her opponents.
"She's very professional out there, and she's very well-tempered," said Nicole Arendt, one of Stosur's coaches with Optus Achievement Squad, which helps transition Australian players from junior to senior tennis. "She plays her best tennis when she keeps it steady. You don't have any idea if she's winning or losing."
For Stosur, ranked No. 101 in the world, the formula works.
Five weeks ago, she was coming off back-to-back first-round losses in tournaments in Memphis, Tenn., and St. Paul, Minn.
Since then, she's advanced to the quarterfinals of a WTA event in Acapulco and made the third round at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, Calif., before eventually falling to Lindsay Davenport, who's currently ranked fourth in the world.
It's quite a journey from January, when she was ranked No. 163.
"With me, it does work on confidence," said Stosur, who will face Japan's Shiho Hisamatsu in the second round today at 10 a.m. "Once you get on a bit of a roll, it's a very nice thing. I wasn't playing badly (in Memphis and St. Paul). But when you don't win in the first round, it makes it a little tough."
Stosur has proven she can win. In January's Australian Open, the first leg of the Grand Slam, she advanced to the second round while blasting a serve that was clocked at 120 mph, the fastest in the tournament.
Plus, she's won four Pro Circuit singles titles in her career and will represent her home country against Russia in the first round of the Federation Cup later this month.
A title this week, and Stosur would break into the top-100 for the first time in her career. Surely, that would force out a smile.
"Getting through the first round is always a confidence-builder," Arendt said. "She's put in the time, and she's worked so hard. It's beginning to pay off."
Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216
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