In a surprising climax to a women’s event that saw last year’s finalist dumped out in the first round and some of the biggest stars of the game lose their way early, it was the cagey veteran Francesca Schiavone, who most casual tennis fans had probably never heard of, who used her spin and guile to her advantage in taking down the giant slayer Sam Stosur in the finals of the French Open 6-4, 7-6(2) making her the first Italian to win a Grand Slam in the Open era and one of the oldest winners ever at just shy of 30 years of age.
For Schiavone, it’s a dream come true and perhaps a fitting end to a long ride on the WTA tour. For Stosur, despite having a dream tournament herself, it could be a turning point in her own career, either for the best or the worst.
Early on in the first set, it looked like Stosur would completely outhit Schiavone as the Australian held in her opening two service games to love. But Schiavone came out swinging as well and held rather easily. But Stosur’s level dropped just a bit while the Italian mixed up her shot selections and came to net with great success, even at one point returning and volleying to give her a break point at 4-4 which she earned after a Stosur double fault that gave Schiavone the chance to serve out the set.
Schiavone did seem to let the moment get to her a bit and allowed Stosur a break in the second set to go up 4-1 and for a while it looked like Stosur had found her range. But the Italian’s game plan of mixing up her shots plus her ease with dealing with Stosur’s kick serve to her backhand got her back into things at 4-4. A visibly frustrated Stosur tried swinging away to get herself back into the set, but her fearsome forehand tended to go long or in the net. By the time they entered the tiebreak, the crowd and the momentum were with the Italian who jumped out to a 5-2 lead and then finally won the title after a Stosur backhand went wide.
While Stosur seemed to have a letdown mentally after the stunning string of wins she put together, she did not lose this match to her nerves as Dinara Safina did a year ago when she double faulted at match point. Instead, it was Schiavone, who had to know this was her first and last chance to win a Slam, who let her emotions fuel her game allowing her to swing away at the big moments. Schiavone also proved that variety and spin in one’s game can with big matches instead of the usual banging from the baseline approach that so many female pros employ.
Even though this is a tough loss for the Australian, who appeared visibly sad during the trophy ceremony, how she chooses to deal with and learn from it will be the real question. If Stosur had won, she would immediately have been thrust into the WTA spotlight as possibly the next No. 1. But as we’ve seen with the last two French Open champions Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova, sometimes being called the next big thing is too much to handle as evidenced by both players continuing sub-par play post French Open. Losing might actually give Stosur time to adjust to being a favorite now and give her the fuel to go for even bigger glory.
As for Schiavone, perhaps the t-shirt message of “Nothing is Impossible” that her team wore today said it best. Sure Schiavone had a little bit of luck with the draw she had and her shock win over Dementieva in the semifinals, but that’s what it takes sometimes to win a Slam. If nothing else, hopefully Schiavone’s charming personality and stylish play will inspire younger players in developing their own games to be more varied and colorful instead of the usual cookie cutter two-handed ball smashing that has robbed the game of some its variety. But for now, we should all take delight in seeing a woman achieve her dream and letting us share in the “emotion” as Schiavone said.
For that we say, Grazie Franny!