Francesca Schiavone claims marathon

Updated: January 23, 2011, 7:30 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MELBOURNE, Australia -- One of the players was so exhausted she forgot who was serving. The other kept checking the ticking clock on center court and thinking to herself, "Brava, Francesca!"

The clock finally stopped at 4 hours, 44 minutes, when French Open champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 in the fourth round at the Australian Open and set a record for the longest women's Grand Slam match in the Open era.

An exhausted but elated Schiavone described the match as "fantastic!"

Though the 30-year-old Schiavone is at an age when many players are considering retirement, she's playing the best tennis of her career and making history as goes.

She won the French Open last year at 29, becoming the first Italian to win a major and the oldest woman in four decades to win her first Grand Slam. She also became the oldest woman in 12 years to crack the top 10 for the first time.

With Sunday's win she set a new personal best, reaching her first Australian Open quarterfinal in 11 tries. She has played in 42 consecutive Grand Slams. She also is expected to rise from her current career-high ranking of No. 6.

"When you're in a situation like this, I think every point is the most important. It's like every point is match point. You have to keep going," she said.

Schiavone saved six match points and closed the final set on her third match point.

"Physically you are tired," she said. "Mentally it's the same."

Schiavone kept fresh by dousing herself with bottled water at game changeovers, pouring it over her head, arms and legs. Both players sought rubdowns from their trainers to ease tight muscles.

[+] EnlargeKuznetsova/Schivone
AP Photo/Andrew BrownbillAn exhausted Svetlana Kuznetsova said she lost track of who was serving at times during her record-setting loss to Francesca Schiavone.

The third set was a three-hour marathon, with incredible shots and saves by both players, going more or less game for game until Schiavone edged ahead and ended it at a staggering 16-14.

The longest previous women's match in a Grand Slam tournament was here last year when Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova beat Regina Kulikova 7-6 (5), 6-7 (10), 6-3 in a contest lasting 4:19.

At Roland Garros last year, Schiavone gained a reputation for dropping to the court and kissing the clay, a ritual that started in the quarterfinals and continued through the final.

There was no kissing the ground Sunday night at Melbourne Park.

Schiavone raised both arms to the sky and then walked to the net to hug Kuznetsova, the 2009 French Open champion.

"At some stage, I was like, 'What's the score? Who's serving?'" Kuznetsova said. "I had no clue sometimes. It was so hard to count."

The 25-year-old Russian beat seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin in straight sets in the third round, which she described as "definitely hard."

But Sunday's record-setting match was almost spiritual.

"What doesn't kill you will make you stronger. I'm still alive and sitting here," said the No. 26-ranked Russian.

"I am a religious person and I believe in God. If he makes me go through this, I will go through this and keep my head high and work even harder. I'm proud of the work I've done," she said.

Schiavone said her focus never strayed, thanks to the on-court clock.

"I was watching the clock. I say, 'Brava, Francesca! You are tough!'" she said.

The Italian expects another challenge when she faces No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals.

Asked if she'll have the energy for the next round, she smiled, "If you ask me now, I say, 'No.'

"But I am young. I can run," she said. "I can do anything."

Shortly after, 2008 champion Maria Sharapova lost 6-2, 6-3 to Andrea Petkovic, who had a relatively easy run into the fourth round when Venus Williams retired after just four minutes in their third-round match.

Petkovic will now take on China's Li Na in the quarterfinals.

"Maria is such a great champion, it's just two or three points and she comes back, and she started playing so well in the last couple of games, so I was a little nervous," Petkovic said. "But I am happy I closed it out in the end."

Wozniacki moved into the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Anastasija Sevastova and is just one victory from ensuring she'll retain the top ranking.

The 20-year-old Dane, playing her first major as world No. 1, can keep her top ranking with an appearance in the semis.

The questions about Wozniacki's worthiness of the top ranking are starting to diminish. Asked which player she feared most, she said: "I don't fear anyone actually.

"I'm feeling confident. I feel like I can beat anyone on a good day. I think they have to fear me when they're playing me," she said. "I just go out there and do my best. If they're better than me that day, it's just too good."

Wozniacki lost three of the first four games of the match before reeling off six in a row, including a break in the first game of the second set. Sevastova, ranked No. 46, rallied and the pair traded breaks until Wozniacki regained control.

Wozniacki now has reached the quarterfinals at all four majors, and she's navigated some troublesome ground. According to the WTA, only one of the past five women to be ranked No. 1 went beyond the first round in the first major they played with the top ranking.

She also steered herself in and out of trouble after telling a story in a postmatch news conference about being scratched by a kangaroo.

After her match, she described an up-close encounter with a baby kangaroo that had scarred her.

She said she tried to pet the kangaroo and it scratched her, and noted she had seen a doctor and rejected advice to get stitches.

But she later tweeted: "Round 2 with the media:) hope you enjoyed my kangaroo story, hope you know i was just kidding:) see you on tuesday for round 3!"

She later returned to Melbourne Park to clarify she'd made up the story and to apologize, saying she didn't think anyone would believe it.

Li, already China's most successful player, reached the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-3 win over eighth-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.

The ninth seed was one of two Chinese players to reach the semifinals at Melbourne Park last year, her run ending with a loss to eventual champion Serena Williams in two tiebreak sets.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.