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French finalists rediscovering game

NEW YORK -- They were the last two players in Paris, Francesca Schiavone of Italy and Australia's Samantha Stosur, but a month later at Wimbledon they were French toast, losing in the first round.

After a summer of poor (Schiavone) and merely mediocre (Stosur) results, the two finalists at Roland Garros have rediscovered their games, almost inexplicably, here at the National Tennis Center.

Schiavone, who won her first Grand Slam singles title over Stosur, has a chance to reach the U.S. Open semifinals for the first time in her 11th visit. Stosur had previously won only two of six matches here.

Their reward for such outrageously good behavior?

Opponents who have combined for four U.S. Open titles, 1,062 match wins, 81 titles and a staggering 50 quarterfinals berths in major events. Because the seedings held true to form in the women's bottom half of the draw, No. 2-seeded Kim Clijsters and No. 3 Venus Williams await them.

In a battle of 30-year-olds, Venus plays Schiavone in the second match Tuesday at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"Obviously, her game is better than ever now," Venus said after defeating Shahar Peer. "Seems like everybody is hitting their stride at 30. It's the new 20.

"Definitely two of us going after it and trying to take that spot in the semifinals. But I'm hoping that my experience will help me, just like it did [Sunday], where I've had my opponent in some tough situations and still able to win."

Venus did not play a single match between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open due to a knee injury, but she's had a technically clean run here, winning all eight of her sets.

The first match of the evening features Clijsters and Stosur, who won a terrific fourth-round match over Elena Dementieva, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (2).

Stosur saved four match points and the contest ended at 1:35 a.m., the latest-ending women's match ever at the U.S. Open. Stosur also saved four match points in a match two weeks ago in New Haven -- and one at Roland Garros, against Serena Williams.

"[New Haven] did enter my mind for a second," Stosur said. "[I] thought, I don't want to make a habit of doing this all the time. To draw on that experience I think can always help. I just, yeah, dug deep and never gave up, made her work for it.

"It's amazing what experiences a week ago, a month ago, whatever, can really help you through the next one. Yeah, that's definitely one of the most exciting matches I've ever played. I mean, the atmosphere out there was just awesome."

Clijsters had a 14-hour head start on recovery over Stosur -- and it's not as if she needs that kind of advantage. Because of injury and a prolonged sabbatical, Clijsters has a weirdly wonderful streak going here in New York. Because she won the 2005 title here, then missed three tournaments and won again last year, she's won 18 matches in a row.

"Yeah, not that I think about it, but I want to try and keep it going," Clijsters said. "I've always enjoyed playing here at the U.S. Open. I remember playing qualifying and playing Serena in 2001 or 2002 many years ago already.

"Obviously, the U.S. Open is a special tournament for me. I wasn't able to defend my title in 2006, so coming here as a defending champion has been a new experience and something that kind of keeps it fresh, too, because it's new."

Clijsters is the freshest of the four women playing Tuesday, having won all eight of her sets in a total of under four hours. Schiavone is also 8-0 (having dropped only 13 games) and has been on court for less than five hours. Venus (5 hours, 53 minutes) and Stosur (6 hours, 54 minutes) have played significantly more.

Although the fast DecoTurfII court here favors the fastballers, Schiavone is the only one in the group who is a crafty spin artist. This has worked well so far, but Venus is more powerful than any of her previous opponents.

"For sure on the clay I have more time, so I can take you and go 10 shots, 20 shots, 30 shots," Schiavone said. "Here is not like this. But in the same way, I can do serve and volley, I can play faster, I can play slow and back. Is a mix.

"It's like capricciosa pizza. I don't give you margherita, I give you capricciosa, different kind of ingredient."

Schiavone and Stosur, believe it or not, ate at the same restaurant the night before their final in Paris. At Ristorante Napoletano, Schiavone -- on home turf -- ordered spaghetti carbonara, while Stosur had calamari, pasta and caprese. At no time did the players' parties even exchange eye contact.

The next day, Schiavone won a spirited final 6-4, 7-6 (2) and kissed the red clay of Roland Garros. If she wins here, will she try the blue asphalt on center court?

"No, I didn't test [yet] with my lips," Schiavone said "I think I will do something, but the ways is long. So it will be a secret."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.