Schiavone wins one for Italy
By HOWARD FENDRICH
PARIS — For more than a decade as a professional tennis player, 29-year-old Francesca Schiavone waited and worked to reach this particular moment on this particular court, and there was no way she was going to conceal her excitement about arriving.
As Schiavone moved closer, point by important point, to winning the French Open title, and to giving Italy its first female champion at a Grand Slam tournament, she let everyone watching share in the sheer joy.
At 2-all in the second-set tiebreaker of yesterday's taut final against Samantha Stosur of Australia, Schiavone hit a forehand volley winner and raised a fist, well aware she was four points from victory.
Schiavone next smacked a volley to end a nine-stroke exchange and jumped to celebrate. Three points away. A forehand winner followed, and Schiavone screamed. Two points away. She slid through the red clay and, lunging, poked yet another volley winner. She yelled again, hopping in place. One point away.
And then, after delivering a spin-laden backhand from the baseline, Schiavone watched the ball glance off Stosur's racket frame and deflect harmlessly in the wrong direction. Zero points away. The 17th-seeded Schiavone covered her face with both hands, then dropped to the ground and stayed on her back for a few moments, smearing her white outfit with rust-colored clay, relishing the 6-4, 7-6 (2) win over the No. 7-seeded Stosur and the many, little steps that brought her there, right where she always believed she could be.
Schiavone (pronounced Skee-ah-VOH-nay) curled over and kissed the court, giving thanks to "this clay, this beautiful tournament and this arena," as she put it later, for giving her "this opportunity and all the emotion that I am living."
She turns 30 this month, making her the oldest woman since 1969 to win her first Grand Slam championship. Tomorrow, Schiavone will rise to a career-best No. 6 in the WTA rankings, making her the oldest woman since 1998 to make her top-10 debut.
Consider how far she's come in only 12 months: At the 2009 French Open, Schiavone was ranked 50th and lost in the first round against — you guessed it — Stosur.
"When you achieve goals with self-awareness, by working on who you are and what you do every day of your life, you're able to appreciate it much more," she said in Italian. "I finally was ready to win this trophy."
Both she and those around her say the way Schiavone has grown as a person off the court in recent years helps her perform better on the court. She never had been past the quarterfinals at 38 previous major tournaments.
"I wasn't like this 10 years ago. They know," she said, nodding toward Italian journalists who've tracked her career.