Nothing is impossible! This was the phrase on the t-shirt worn by Francesca Schiavone’s family and friends today in the French Open final. Schiavone proved the axiom by surprising Samantha Stosur 6-4, 7-6 to grab her first career major. Moreover, Schiavone stenciled her name in history by becoming the first Italian female to prevail at a major.
With eight first serves leading to two love games, Stosur was on a tear to open the first set. Still, Schiavone had no trouble keeping up, connecting on an ace to level things at 2 all. Subsequently, with a deep return, Schiavone provoked Stosur into a forehand error for love-30. However, with her saving grace, the serve, Stosur battled back and capped the game with a forehand down the line winner for 3-2. Using her all court game, especially the volley, Schiavone stayed in touch with Stosur. The pivotal point arrived at 4 a piece. By pushing her rival into three uncomfortable shots which misfired, Schiavone manufactured triple break point. After Stosur salvaged two, she double faulted on the third to give Schiavone a 5-4 advantage. By climbing out of love-30 with an ace and forehand crosscourt winner, Schiavone set up a second set point with a backhand volley winner. When Stosur netted the backhand, Schiavone claimed the first set.
With a deep and low backhand pass, Schiavone caused Stosur to hit the next stroke long. As a result, the Italian had double break point in third game of the second set. However, with a three winners and an unreturnable serve, Stosur guarded serve for 2-1. Then, by punishing second serves, Stosur had her first break point of the day with a forehand up the line winner. Stosur capitalized when Schiavone’s forehand up the line failed. Promptly, Stosur consolidated with a love game for 4-1. Following a quick hold, Schiavone produced a backhand return winner crosscourt, a forehand winner and made Stosur err with the backhand to arrive at love-40. Later, by stabbing at a superb serve, Schiavone got a miscue on a short forehand from Stosur to get back on serve at 3-4. Despite the mounting pressure, Schiavone remained aggressive and comfortably maintained serve. Eventually, the set was settled in a tiebreaker. Schiavone secured a mini-break for 3-2 by tracking Stosur’s dropshot and converting a backhand up the line winner. The Italian extended her lead to 5-2 with a forehand volley winner and forehand crosscourt winner. Subsequently, with a crosscourt backhand volley winner, Schiavone obtained a second mini-break and four championship points. When Stosur’s stroke off the return traveled out of play, Schiavone bagged the second set and the French Open trophy. Schiavone rejoiced by painting her lips red with a clay kiss, duplicating this jubilant sign she had shown in the quarters and semis.
Stosur, the world number 7 and 2009 semifinalist, had a 12-2 record coming into Paris. The titlist in Charleston and the runner-up in Stuttgart to Justine Henin, Stosur was sizzling. In the round of 16, after dropping the first set, Stosur roared back to defeat Henin, the four time French Open champion. In the quarterfinals, after a hiccup in the second set, Stosur salvaged match point by Serena Williams to triumph in overtime in the third. Moreover, in the semifinals, the Aussie pulverized Jelena Jankovic to earn her first berth in a final at a major. After demolishing a bevy of current and former world number one, with a 4-1 record against Schiavone, even beating the Italian last year at Roland Garros and in the finals in Osaka for her maiden WTA tour title, all arrows pointed in Stosur’s favor. Perhaps, the onus of trying to become the first Aussie female since Evonne Goolagong Cawley at Wimbledon in 1980 to hoist the big prize at a major was too much for Stosur.
Schiavone, ranked 17, had been a three time quarterfinalist at a major including Roland Garros in 2001. After a title in Barcelona to beginning her clay season, Schiavone exited early in Stuttgart, Rome and Madrid, entering Paris with an 8-3 record. Schiavone struggled in the opening round, losing the first set to Regina Kulikova ranked 70th , before pulling through. But, in the third round, Schiavone dismissed Na Li. In the round of 16, Schiavone dispatched Maria Kirilenko who had ousted defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. In the quarterfinals, Schiavone befuddled Wozniacki, winning in straight sets to become the first Italian woman to advance to the semifinals at a major. Lastly, after taking the first set tiebreaker, Schiavone got a pass to the finals when a calf injury forced Elena Dementieva to throw in the towel. With this win, on Monday, Schiavone catapults to number 6 in the rankings while Stosur will maintain in the number 7 spot.
When it comes to the women’s tour, one’s odds of hitting the center on the dart board are far better than accurately prognosticating, particularly on clay. All the so-called favorites, Dementieva, Serena, Jankovic, Henin and Stosur were disappointed. Today, Schiavone proved once again on any given day, at any given age, Schiavone is 18 day shy of her 30th birthday, even at a major, an improbable champion can be born.