Rising To The Occasion
June 5, 2010 -- She volleyed. She sliced the ball and looped it. She skipped and jumped with joy and determination. She won.
Francesca Schiavone today became the first Italian woman to win a major title, The French Open Championship. She defeated Samantha Stosur, the woman most expected to win, 64 76 (2), in a show of deft clay-court mastery. Immediately after she clinched the last point, a relieved and flabbergasted Schiavone fell to the court, rolled over and kissed it.
Schiavone also became the oldest woman to win her first major singles title in more than 40 years. She is 29 and will be 30, by the time Wimbledon gets underway in a little over two weeks.
"I prepared the final mentally and tactically very good," Schiavone started. "I was so concentrate on my serve. I try to don't look nowhere, but just to feel my play and try to be aggressive as much as I could."
Although Stosur captured much of the limelight throughout the French Open, she did not seem to have the upper hand against Schiavone, although Stosur said in her press conference that she thought she had played well.
Her tenacious tactics and mindful concentration had less success, mainly due to Schiavone's excellent play. Entering the final with confidence, Stosur knew this match was a distinct occasion that necessitated its own efforts, even having defeated three number-one players: Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic, and Justine Henin in previous rounds.
"I kind of expected her to be aggressive," Stosur began. "In the other times that we played recently, she probably wasn't enough and I totally dictated what had happened and I won them. If you're going to do the same thing, you're going to get the same result. So, I mean, I was expecting something different."
Both women showed little in the way of nerves, at first. They both exercised their strengths.
Stosur's recipe plan cooked. She served wide to the deuce court, Schiavone returned a weak reply, and then Stosur ran around her backhand to smack a cross-court forehand winner. Stosur's one-two power punch game.
Schiavone was on tactical target, too. She spun her serve and placed it with precision, pulling the Aussie left and right, getting her off balance. Schiavone stayed centered mentally, within herself enough to recognize opportunity and complete winning shots, many by volleying... her hands sensing the racquet precisely enough to make impossibly beautiful shots.
Midway into the first set, at 8-games all, neither player had had a break chance. In the next game, Stosur's wheels loosened. Down 30/40, she double faulted to drop the game and give the Italian a chance to close out the first set. Schiavone rose to the occasion and won it. Hers was a lesson in managing power.
"I saw after the first set she had a really good percentage and was placing the ball very well and kind of kept me off balance," Stosur said. "In the past, that's been a shot that I've been able to attack against her, especially her second serve, and today she didn't really allow me to do that too much."
She came out at the start of the second shaken. Schiavone earned three break chances in the first game. But Stosur shifted gears. She drew on that confidence, serving skill and her heart. She saved all three break points, broke Schiavone in the next game, and held a 4/1 lead.
Momentum swung again. Stosur went a bit tight while Schiavone grit her teeth. Stosur sent volleys out that she would have normally knocked off for winners. Her feel for the ball was nowhere in sight.
"I didn't really step up to the line and play the right kind of game that I needed to try and keep that lead," Stosur admitted. "Maybe went a little bit passive, but I wasn't feeling bad. Obviously having that break up boosted my confidence a little bit, but I guess I didn't really keep the foot down and try and keep going with it."
Stosur held on. Six-games all gave her a shot to extend the match to three sets and possibly win the title. However, Schiavone's play in the tiebreak improved point after point.
"I really always dreamed this tournament. It's strange to say it, but when I call my daddy [after the match], he say to me, I remember you that you always dream this one. Every morning that you wake up, you work to do something like this. So maybe it was far away in the reality, but here never far away."
Stosur played a good match. However, as it went on the air was plump possibilities that Schiavone's destiny laid ahead. Stosur pumped herself up. Fans could hear it. But she also showed frustration. She had lost a bit of her ability to move from one point to the next, as she had improved on throughout the championship.
Stosur held a 4-1 head-to-head lead against Schiavone coming into The French Open. Schiavone last triumphed over the Aussie in 2005, their first meeting.
Stosur's first tour title came only last year in Osaka, against Schiavone. The next week Schiavone won a tour title. Stosur then won The Family Circle Cup in April. They both entered The French Open on the upswing.
"If I had won today it would be my third [title], which if you look at it, it's kind of unbelievable," Stosur said. "She's obviously fit and healthy, and it doesn't matter what the age. If you've got that desire, anyone can do it. I think it proves you don't have to be the teenage wonder kid superstar to win the tournament like this."
Schiavone said she would scoop up a cup of the terre battue to take home with her. She also was delighted to have such a prestigious trophy as the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
"I [have] won three tournaments," Schiavone started. "The first one the trophy break. So I say, it's okay. I put a tack. Didn't work. The second one in Moscow I won a trophy like this. But this, is write my name. That's fantastic."