Roland Garros Women’s Final: Sentimental Lady.

Much will be said about this year’s Roland Garros Women’s Singles Final that involves age, experience, and longevity. If the unexpected and tumultuous two weeks taught us anything is that when opportunity awaits everyone, some ignore it at their peril while others think about it too much to really focus on what’s required of them that minute.

So after the veterans proved, at least for this fortnight, that going around the block a few times is better than youthful inspiration (Caroline Garcia, anyone?), we’re left on the final Saturday with two veterans who have found their very best games in what could only be called their second careers. Both Li Na and Francesca Schiavone were both on the brink of leaving Roland Garros early and if they had, each would have been only remembered for their recent past. Li Na, who became the story of the women’s event in Melbourne this year, found herself distracted enough by overeager Chinese fans and Kim Clijsters’s moonballs to finish second at the Australian Open, with some wondering if her best and only chance to win her nation’s first ever Major had slipped away.

Schiavone seized her maiden Slam title last year and despite inspiring tennis fans around the world with improbable victory, she hasn’t even come close to equaling that storied run in other events. With a so-so clay court season heading into this year’s Roland Garros, some wondered if “Fran” would even reach the second week. But for Schiavone, something deep drives her to achieve her very best in Paris. In interviews, she talks about visiting Roland Garros as a young girl and being inspired by the players she watched there and thinking to herself that she too could be great like them. That she too would achieve all of her dreams at one place – Roland Garros.

Maybe it is this deep memory from Schiavone’s past that will end up being the intangible factor in her match against Li Na. Or perhaps it will be the Chinese, who upon winning her first Major, ends up creating not just a great memory, but a moment in history for her nation and the sport. But if Schiavone prevails, she will prove that 2010 wasn’t just “luck” but really a statement that she is the best active women’s clay court player around right now.

After all the talk about the women’s event being so wide open, the real underlying story ended up being Schiavone once again. Even though her trip to the finals wasn’t as dramatic as last year’s, her six matches have taken us back, at least in glimpses, to last year. Each of us remember something from her glorious 2010 run –whether it was her smile, her strut, the way she kissed the clay or how she fell to the ground when the last point was hers. Tathiana Garbin, Schiavone’s coach probably says it best when she said in a recent video that it felt like “everyone won” when Schiavone did.

Memories are all we and the players have left once Saturday’s match ends. But somewhere in the crowd, there could be a young girl watching both Li and Schiavone and thinking to herself that one day all of her dreams could come true on a court built for the “Four Musketeers” but, at least a small part of it anyway, now belongs to the Italian who herself said, “the red clay (there) is like my heart and I am really anxious to come back soon and to leave fantastic new emotion.”

Click here for a video looking back on Schiavone’s 2010 RG Title Run.

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