- Ravi Ubha, Tennis
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MELBOURNE, Australia -- Just when it looked like this year's Australian Open couldn't get any better, out came Grand Slam champions Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova to produce one for the ages -- and record books.
Schiavone's 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 victory in 4 hours, 44 minutes was the longest Grand Slam women's match, in time and games, in the Open era. Schiavone, building on her success at last year's French Open, saved six match points deep in the third.
"I hope one day to show this DVD to my son," Schiavone, who has no kids at the moment, said.
Kuznetsova, who added to her list of tough losses, was only slightly less courageous. Twice she broke Schiavone back when the Italian tried to serve it out, before finally succumbing.
Kuznetsova joked after upsetting Justine Henin in the third round that she and Schiavone were like "animals," besides being friends. Lions, or lion-hearted, comes to mind. Indeed, animals were the order of the day in Melbourne, with world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki strangely weaving a faux tale of a kangaroo scratching her leg in a postmatch press conference.
Wozniacki flashed her trademark smile in a pair of press conferences, and she must have been in good spirits watching proceedings at Hisense Arena. The Dane, who is chasing a maiden Grand Slam title, next faces a sapped Schiavone in two days in the quarterfinals.
One player who won't be around for the proceedings is Maria Sharapova, who was soundly beaten 6-2, 6-3 by the quirky German, Andrea Petkovic. Sharapova, worryingly, hasn't recovered from a shoulder injury. She last reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal in 2009 at -- the French Open.
Sunday's drama added to the plethora of marathon encounters, wacky press conferences and hilarious on-court interviews in Week 1. No wonder tournament director Craig Tiley was chuffed.
"It's been an unbelievable week of entertaining tennis," Tiley said. "We couldn't have asked for anything better."
Schiavone must have known she'd be in for a long afternoon -- or an afternoon that turned into evening.
Schiavone, with a spirit that outdoes her slender 5-foot-5 frame, needed 2:23 to advance in the first round and downed Canadian slugger Rebecca Marino in 2:26, going to 9-7 in the third set.
The final set against Kuznetsova lasted precisely three hours. Not John Isner-Nicolas Mahut territory -- they butted heads for 8:11 in the fifth set at Wimbledon in July -- but long enough to eclipse Sharapova's entire match with Petkovic.
"At some stage I was like, what's the score," Kuznetsova said. "Who's serving? I had no clue sometimes. It was hard to count. I was like, who is up? She or me?"
Indeed, 6-seed Schiavone and 23-seed Kuznetsova began their tussle under the hot sun at 3:22 p.m. local time, ending in fresher conditions at 8:06. In the Open era, only Vicki Nelson-Dunbar and Jean Hepner have gone longer, playing 6:31 at a smaller event in 1984, the Ginny of Richmond.
Despite the extended nature, points were varied and focused in the latter stages. Kuznetsova's largely power game was tempered by Schiavone's court coverage and changes of pace.
Once Schiavone broke back for 3-4 in the third, the match stayed on serve until 9-9, when consecutive passing shots made it 10-9 for Schiavone. Both subsequently took injury timeouts. Schiavone, moments after her ribs were worked on, suddenly let out a smile. Both sprinted on court when treatment was done, sending a message to each other.
Schiavone had escaped at 8-7 and 9-8 down, fending off three match points in each game.
The manner in which Schiavone got the key break at 14-14 impressed when she lunged for a volley winner. Kuznetsova temporarily saved herself in the ensuing game with an outstanding backhand slice return as Schiavone charged the net. But it wasn't enough. Schiavone ended it all on her third match point.
The two exchanged a hug at the net, certainly fitting.
"In the third set we gave everything," Schiavone, set to move to a career high No. 4 in the world, said. "So when we finished, I said, 'Svetlana, a really good job, you are great, fantastic.' She said the same. We respect a lot each other.'"
Wozniacki, following her 6-3, 6-4 win over Latvian Anastasija Sevastova, joked to Danish reporters she was scratched by a baby kangaroo at a park, trying to explain a bandage on her lower leg. They knew it was a fib -- she ran into a treadmill -- but when Wozniacki related the fable in English, she didn't mention that.
A wire service ran the story, and several hours later, Wozniacki called a second press conference to clear up matters.
On Friday, the world No. 1, tired of being labeled boring and getting asked the same questions, delivered a monologue to start her press conference.
"I'm sorry if I caused an inconvenience," she said. "I really didn't mean to."
Bizarre, but given what's transpired in Melbourne thus far, not entirely surprising.
Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
Just chalk it up to another one for the ages. Francesca Schiavone beat Svetlana Kuznetsova in 4 hours, 44 minutes, shattering the Open era record.