Last year's U.S. Open championship for Samantha Stosur seems so last year. Stosur, the 28-year-old Australian, has not won a tournament since -- she is 0-for-21 -- and, as former champ Chris Evert noticed in a recent conference call promoting the Open, "People are not even mentioning Stosur."
Stosur herself has proclaimed Serena Williams, whom she defeated in last year's final, to be the obvious title choice. "Outside of that first-round loss at the French Open and a couple of others," Stosur said of Williams, "she's been the player to beat all year.
"She's played some flawless tennis throughout the Olympics and Wimbledon, and they're the biggest events we've had so far, going into this. She's, for sure, the player to beat. You can't deny that, I don't think."
At the pre-Open tuneup tournament in Mason, Ohio, two weeks ago, Williams was afforded her usual top-billing status, always scheduled in the main stadium court before big crowds. Stosur was assigned to small outside courts, where the stands never were full.
More to the point, Stosur rarely has duplicated the crisp, powerful performance of last year's Open final. Since turning pro in 1999, she has won a total of three championships on the women's tour.
In 37 appearances in Grand Slam events, Stosur has advanced as far as the semifinals just four times -- including this year's French Open. In the other two 2012 Slams, she lost in the first round of the Australian Open and second round at Wimbledon.
Still, when she rose to No. 5 in 2010, she became the first Australian woman ranked that high since Wendy Turnbull in 1985. That, after Stosur recovered from Lyme disease, which had cost her most of the 2007 season. Stosur's Open championship last year was the first major title for an Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong in 1980.
"As the days go on, you hear different people say what's going to happen and all that," Stosur said during an appearance at Thursday's draw ceremony.
She will not take anything for granted, she said. Her first-round opponent will be 21-year-old Croatian Petra Martic, ranked 65th, who fought Stosur to a third-set tiebreaker in Madrid this year before Stosur won their only career meeting.
Stosur is in the same quarter of the draw as No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, the reigning Australian Open champion, as well as 2011 French Open winner Li Na of China and three-time U.S. Open champ Kim Clijsters of Belgium.
Should she make it to the semifinals, Stosur likely would face either four-time major tournament champion Maria Sharapova of Russia or the 2011 Wimbledon winner, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.
So there appear to be no grand expectations that Stosur, seeded seventh, will repeat. (Besides Clijsters, in 2009 and 2010, no woman has won back-to-back Opens since Venus Williams won in 2000 and 2001).
But, why not?
"It's been really good to get back on the hard courts again," Stosur said. "I feel like I'm starting to get my tennis together again. It's maybe a bit different this time. It's the first time I've been able to come back and try to defend the title, and I'm looking forward to it. It's great to come back, knowing you were the winner last year.
"But there's a whole draw full of players who want to try to do it this year."
The 2011 Stosur, seeded 9th, is proof that there can be a surprise.