Tennis: Italy's Schiavone wins French Open title
AP Sports Writer
PARIS — Francesca Schiavone threw uppercuts, put her fists to her face and skipped about the court. And then, when she had won the French Open, she really let her emotions show.
With the performance of a lifetime, Schiavone became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam title by beating Samantha Stosur 6-4, 7-6 (2) in the final Saturday.
The tour veteran rallied from a 4-1 deficit in the second set, then took the clinching tiebreaker with a succession of brilliant shots that was topped only by her exuberance.
When she had won, she fell onto her back, then rolled over and kissed the clay. She rose covered with dirt, hugged Stosur and broke into a champion's grin, then trotted over to the wall behind the baseline and climbed it for a group hug with her supporters.
"The passion came through," 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova said. "She wanted it. She wanted it badly. She was going to die on that court if she had to."
Mary Pierce, the 2000 champion, presented Schiavone with the Suzanne Lenglen Cup.
"You give me a great trophy," Schiavone told her. "I feel amazing."
Before leaving the court, Schiavone took a call on a cell phone from Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. She quoted him as saying, "Congratulations. Enjoy this moment. It was an honor for Italy."
At 29, Schiavone (pronounced Skee-ah-VOH-nay) became the oldest woman to win her first Grand Slam title since Ann Jones at Wimbledon in 1969 at age 30. She's the first Italian Grand Slam champion since Adriano Panatta won the French Open men's title in 1976.
Schiavone was seeded 17th. The only other time the title has been won by a woman not seeded in the top 10 was in 1933.
"Everybody has the chance to be who you really want to be, and do everything in your life," Schiavone said. "This is what has happened to me."
This was the best women's final in nearly a decade at Roland Garros, and the quality of play climaxed in the tiebreaker. Schiavone reached match point by hitting four successive winners, the last a lunging backhand volley, and she exulted after every one.
"I was feeling much more energy, more and more and more," she said. "I couldn't stop it. I really felt that was my moment, and I took it. I didn't lose the chance."
On match point, Schiavone hit a backhand into the corner with so much spin it deflected off Stosur's racket, and the real celebration began.
Both players were first-time Grand Slam finalists, but there were few signs of jitters. Schiavone certainly looked relaxed — during one changeover break she laughed as her fans chanted.
"They both played very good, aggressive, creative tennis," Navratilova said. "It's nice to see two creative players make it to the finals and then play a good final."
The No. 5-seeded Stosur beat four-time champion Justine Henin, top-ranked Serena Williams and former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic en route to the final.
"I'm disappointed," the Australian said, her voice breaking. "It's a big journey and a great two weeks. You want the full fairy tale, but it didn't quite happen."
Stosur's forehand lacked the bite from earlier matches. Much of that had to do with Schiavone, who played dogged defense and used her stylish mix of spins to keep Stosur from overpowering her.
The clay was fast on a sunny, warm afternoon, and Stosur's serves topped out at 123 mph. But Schiavone boldly launched her body into them and did damage with her returns.
"Full credit to Francesca," said Stosur's coach, David Taylor. "She had nothing to lose, and she played a great tactical match and a great mental match."
The title came in Schiavone's 39th Grand Slam tournament. On Monday, two weeks shy of her 30th birthday, she'll become the oldest woman in 12 years to crack the top 10 for the first time. She's expected to be ranked sixth.
Each player served well and whacked more than two dozen winners, and both sets swung on a few points. Both held without facing a break point until the ninth game, when Stosur fell behind love-40. She saved two break points but then double-faulted for the first time, slapping her thigh in anger after the mistake that cost her the game.
Schiavone fell behind love-30 in the next game but rallied, hitting four winners to help her hold and seal the set. Stosur walked off the court screaming at herself.
Stosur saved two break points and held to go ahead 2-1 in the second set, then broke for the first time en route to a 4-1 lead.
Schiavone lost only four points in the next three games and took advantage of several Stosur errors to reach 4-all. Both players then held to reach the tiebreaker.
"I don't think I played that bad," Stosur said. "She just had her day. She went for it. It takes guts to do that. Well done to her."