Commentary

Don't call Schiavone complacent

Updated: May 23, 2011, 12:12 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

PARIS -- She stood outside Trainers Room No. 2, eyes closed, rubbing her tiny hands together. When she adjusted the silver clips in her cropped dark hair -- for the third time -- it was clear she was struggling to master her emotions.

Moments later Monday, Francesca Schiavone followed Melanie Oudin out onto Court Philippe Chatrier, the sacred place where, in the span of seven matches one year ago, Schiavone's life was defined.

While the stylish Italian did not exactly come from nowhere, her somewhere wasn't anywhere near. Schiavone was the first woman from outside the top 10 to win the French Open title in 77 years, and the first Italian woman to earn a Grand Slam singles crown. After beating Samantha Stosur in the final, she memorably kissed the crushed red brick.

She had played in 38 previous Grand Slam singles events and advanced as far as the quarterfinals only three times. Then, a few weeks shy of her 30th birthday, Schiavone was unconscious for an entire fortnight. She was the last of 128 entrants to stand at Roland Garros. But what happens after you play the tournament of your life and engineer a season -- including a Fed Cup title -- that is far beyond your most glorious dreams? You play on. You must play on.

Everywhere she went, people told her how happy they were for her. But not as sublimely happy as she was. Schiavone, never quite able to wipe that incandescent smile off her face, won only three matches in the next six events.

"When you arrive at the top of the mountain and you can't go up any more, you have to come down and then come back up," she said at the U.S. Open. "I think I'm doing this."

She played well at the Australian Open, winning four matches before succumbing to Caroline Wozniacki and blistering feet, but this season has seen the struggle continue. Schiavone has lost four opening matches this year and was 14-11 coming into Roland Garros.

[+] EnlargeSchiavone
Alex Livesey/Getty ImageWinning the French Open meant the world to Francesca Schiavone, and she wants nothing more than to feel that unadulterated joy again.

The question continues to beg itself: Was that first major the last? Did the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen put her in a place of peace, perhaps quench that savage fire?

No, insists Schiavone; it made her want more.

"I made my mark in some ways at this tournament and this city -- and maybe even a bit in the world," Schiavone said before the tournament. "I'm very proud of that. At the same time, I'm back at Roland Garros wanting to write another page in the history books, wanting to feel my best and to experience the joys I can feel playing tennis. I'm happy and ready."

Based on the earliest of returns, this was a coy understatement. Schiavone wrecked Oudin 6-2, 6-0 in a match that lasted only 62 minutes.

"Yeah, um, basically I pretty much got a clay-court lesson today," Oudin mused afterward. "I mean, playing her -- practicing this past week, I haven't played anyone that hits the ball like that heavy.

"I think that the court here definitely bounces higher than some of the other courts. That helps her a ton. I mean, she is serving well; she's moving well. She pretty much doesn't have a weakness on the clay, I don't think. There really wasn't much I could do."

Schiavone admitted she was nervous.

"I'm still shaking a little bit," she said in her postmatch interview. "A lot of adrenaline."

This was the fierce stuff of 2010, when Schiavone placed herself in rare company. In the Open era, which goes back 43 years now, only 37 women have won a Grand Slam singles title. Schiavone did something that, say, Elena Dementieva could never do, something that world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki has yet to do.

The French Open is famous for producing surprises, and Schiavone followed the recent tradition of Anastasia Myskina (the 2004 champion) and Ana Ivanovic (2008). Myskina retired with that one major on her résumé, and Ivanovic, to date, has the same total.

Common sense and a review of recent results -- Schiavone was thumped 6-2, 6-4 by Stosur in the quarterfinals at Rome -- suggest that this was a one-time thing, that the French Open victory was something of a lifetime achievement award. Publicly at least, Schiavone isn't buying it.

"I feel stronger," she said. "Between 28 and 35, you can grow, get better. It is all about the moment, see the moment, take the moment, hit it!"

It is difficult not to feel her enthusiasm. This is the woman, after all, who hacked and hacked for 4 hours, 44 minutes earlier this year in Melbourne, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova 16-14 in the third set of their fourth-round match. She has less than a fortnight left as the reigning French Open champion and she seems determined to enjoy it.

When a reporter wondered aloud if Schiavone's success here in Paris hurt her going forward, she shook her head.

"I shouldn't try to forget Paris," she said. "Paris is something I hold in my heart and that helps me as an experience."

In 1889, Joseph Oller built a cabaret here in the red-light district of Pigalle. It was called Moulin Rouge, the red mill, where the can-can dance originated. For 102 euros, you can see today's version in a 90-minute show.

Schiavone didn't display the high leg kick Monday, but she's made it clear she's still filled with crazy optimism, that she's still only too happy to tilt at windmills.

"You know when you go home and your mom do everything for you and you feel comfortable?" she said, trying to explain her love for this place. "I was excited to be here. For me, is great."

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.