Commentary

How Schiavone reached her destiny

Updated: June 6, 2010, 12:19 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

PARIS -- They have hovered at the margins of the professional tennis elite for a combined quarter century.

Samantha Stosur and Francesca Schiavone had won a total of only five tournaments in that time -- and never anything approaching a major -- before Saturday at Roland Garros.

But with the unique dynamic that each 128-player draw provides, a Grand Slam offers the rare opportunity to forever recast your image. In two weeks and seven matches, a complete career makeover can be achieved; a Grand Slam champion is a champion forever.

In retrospect, in the steamy cauldron of Court Philippe Chatrier, you would have to say Schiavone was destined to win; her name, Francesca, means French.

The expressive Italian -- less than three weeks from her 30th birthday -- was the surprise aggressor against the strapping Aussie, winning the final 6-4, 7-6 (2). And when Stosur's last errant shot came to earth, Schiavone swiftly followed it, collapsing onto the red clay, kissing it with gusto, then walking to the net to embrace Stosur.

Schiavone thus is the first Italian to play in a major final since Adriano Panatta won the 1976 title at Roland Garros. And she's the second-oldest woman to win her first major; Ann Jones was nearly a year older when she won at Wimbledon in 1969.

Schiavone did not possess Stosur's bigger strokes, but she moved so easily on the thick clay, sprinting, sliding, carving and throwing all of herself into each shot.

Afterward, Schiavone was asked to describe what she had done.

"To go over," she said, asking for the English translation from Italian as she went. "Over the limit."

Said Stosur, "I still don't think I played that bad. She just had her day. She went for it and everything came off.

"You know, it takes guts to do that, and she did it."

[+] EnlargeFrancesca Schiavone
Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesFrancesca Schiavone played an aggressive match en route to her French Open championship.

How aggressive was Schiavone? She hit 26 winners -- one more than Stosur -- and she won 14 of the 15 points when she came to net. The slender Italian had twice as many aces (six) as well.

"That was my tactic," Schiavone said. "To keep going, to press her on the backhand. My goal was to be aggressive."

Stosur? The forehand -- her greatest weapon -- that had been so dominant in three previous matches against former or current No. 1-ranked players, was frayed and nervous and tentative.

The 26-year-old Australian had done most of the heavy lifting in this tournament. She beat four-time French Open champion Justine Henin in the fourth round, ending her 24-match unbeaten streak here at Roland Garros. She beat 12-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in the quarterfinals, then routed Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals.

Stosur had won 20 of 22 matches on clay this year, best among women, and was the favorite in most minds, maybe even the Schiavone camp. The entourage sported black T-shirts with her childhood nickname: SCHIAVO, Nothing is impossible!

Even when she was beating all those former No. 1s, Stosur's volleying wasn't particularly good. Against Schiavone, it hurt her badly in the first set. Serving at 4-all, she was in good position at net to hit a backhand volley but wasn't firm enough, and it sailed long. A second missed backhand volley gave Schiavone the first (and only) break in the set.

Against both Henin and Williams, there were moments when Stosur wobbled after putting herself in commanding position. She watched as Henin's fine backhand broke down, and Williams, too, lost control of her emotions in the late going.

Stosur broke Schiavone's serve in the fourth game of the second set when the Italian committed two errors, a forehand into the net and a backhand wide. Stosur returned the favor at 4-2 with a dreadful forehand that leaked wide. Given the way the match progressed, the tiebreaker was a predictable conclusion.

Stosur won the first point, then gradually withdrew. Leading 3-2, Schiavone played her two best points. She stroked a short, crosscourt backhand to pull Stosur wide, then raced to net for a winning forehand volley. After a ferocious forehand winner down the line, she unleashed a scissor kick and a fist pump and, sensing victory, started skipping around the court. Really, skipping, like a child.

And so, for the ninth time in a row, the women's final was over in two sets. Dinara Safina was a no-show the past two years, against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic. Stosur played better than that, but the player who beat three No. 1s never materialized.

After the lengthy on-court ceremonies (2000 champion Mary Pierce presented the trophy), Schiavone walked off Chatrier and was met by the tournament ball kids, who lined the stairs on her way to the locker room.

Schiavone bounced down the stairs, high-fiving as she went, her life changed forever.

"This means that everybody have the chance to be who really you want to be," she said. "You can arrive here if you really work here and have something social inside can be passion, can be heart.

"To do everything in your life. This is what's happened to me."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.