Get To Know a Tennis Upstart: Francesca Schiavone

Rob YorkSenior Writer ISeptember 5, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 02:  Francesca Schiavone of Italy returns a shot against Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland during day three of the 2009 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 2, 2009 in Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Francesca Schiavone of Italy defeated No. 8 seed Victoria Azarenka 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Friday, ending the Belarusian’s hopes for a Grand Slam breakthrough.

The 29-year-old Schiavone is now in her 12th year as a pro, having won one singles title, seven in doubles and reached the Roland Garros doubles final while partnering with Casey Dellacqua of Australia.

Her career highlight, however, may have been her involvement in a Fed Cup victory in 2006, when Italy defeated the heavily favored Belgian team led by Justine Henin 3-2.

Schiavone is known for her all-court game with a hard forehand and one-handed backhand that she prefers to slice, along with her comfort at net.

In her decade-long career she has reached the quarterfinals of every Grand Slam event save the Australian Open, where her best appearance was a fourth round showing in ’06.

Schiavone reached the quarters of Wimbledon in July, which helped her earn a seeding for the Open.

Even so, she went into Friday’s encounter as a distinct underdog against the 20-year-old Victoria Azarenka, who has been one of the fastest-rising young players on the WTA Tour. Azarenka has three titles to her name already, including the Premier event in Miami where she routed a hobbled Serena Williams in the final.

While Azarenka put 80 percent of her first serves in play on Friday—an extremely high percentage to maintain over three sets—she won only 56 percent of points on her first serve and an abysmal 26 percent on her second. She committed 46 unforced errors to only 18 winners, and had only one ace to six double faults.

The No. 26-seeded Italian, by contrast, had a first serve percentage of 57 percent, but her average first serve speed was 98 mph to Azarenka’s 87. The Italian also played a much cleaner match, committing 32 errors to 30 winners.

After the match, Schiavone said that her plan had been to keep Azarenka beyond the baseline, as allowing her to step inside the court would have permitted the up-and-coming Belarusian to dictate play.

The Italian’s next opponent will be No. 18 seed Li Na of China. Schiavone is currently the No. 2 Italian in the women’s game behind No. 10 Flavia Pennetta, who is also still in the tournament.