Something special happened at Roland Garros yesterday, we had a first-time winner of a Grand Slam tournament from Italy and her name is Francesca Schiavone.
Francesca beat the bookies' favourite, Sam Stosur, 6-4, 7-6 in just under two hours. Had Sam been able to take the second set, we might have had a classic final, but what we did get was a great tactical performance from Francesca...something we haven’t been able to say about a women's match in a final for some time.
Sam Stosur came into the final as favourite on the back of a very good clay court season, having won Charleston and getting to the final of Stuttgart.
Sam also defeated three players in a row who are or were ranked No. 1 in Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and Jelena Jankovic fairly easily in the semi finals.
The final started with both players holding serve well and looking confident. Things began to get tight for both players at the latter stages of the set, a sign that the match was competitive.
Francesca came into her own at this stage of the match with a fantastic display of tactical Tennis and holding her nerve.
Sam wanted to get her big forehand into play to dictate the match, but Francesca didn’t let her do that; that, in turn, handcuffed Sam, who began to make poor volley errors at the net.
Francesca served very smartly on the deuce court by going to Sam’s forehand, which would then open up the backhand side to attack, which Fran often used to come to the net to knock off volleys.
It was heartening to see a player play risk tennis with a consistent game plan and have the skill to pull it off.
It also reminded me of what Sampras said, that he targeted both Courier and Agassi by serving to their forehands first, which allowed him to get to the backhand. Risk and reward strategy it’s called, I think.
Francesca also volleyed very well off high and low balls and really returned serve beautifully by standing on the baseline and taking Sam’s kick serves early before they bounced too high on her backhand.
Francesca also chipped and charged Sam at key moments on the second serve at love-30 at 4-4 in the first set and at critical moments in the second set. How often do we see players in the men's or women's game chipping and charging at key moments?
Francesca was also willing to go for flat backhand returns and run around the backhand to hit forehand screamers. She really kept Sam guessing, which I think made Sam nervous and Sam wasn’t able to flow as a result.
Sam did take the game more to Francesca in the second set, racing to a 4-1 lead but Francesca was able to break back.
However, Francesca was able to save her best for last in the second-set tiebreak.
Francesca played five points in a row which was some of the best tennis I’ve seen under pressure for some time, just wonderfully constructed points finished off with fantastic volleying technique. Francesca was really inspired and in the end deserved the title.
I also enjoyed the victory speech, which gave the public an insight to why Francesca is so popular in the Tennis world, even if she wasn’t known to the general public before now.
The 2010 French Open final was really a triumph for tactics and bravery. There have been some terrible French Open finals since 2001 (Capriati vs. Clijsters classic) and although this match didn’t go to three sets, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I also would like to mention that even though Francesca’s win is a surprise, Francesca has been gradually gaining confidence and belief to get to this grand moment of hers.
Francesca has been part of a winning Federation cup Team for Italy twice in the last four years.
Francesca has cultivated the winning feeling, having been involved in lots of big matches against big players in the Federation cup, with lots of eyes on her and winning a lot of those matches home and away.
This winning feeling translated in to Francesca realising her potential because she has been winning tournaments over the last 12 months in Moscow and Barcelona.
Francesca also got to the quarterfinal of Wimbledon last year. Those Fed cup moments allowed Francesca to acquire more self belief and gave her the confidence to handle the big stage of the Grand Slam final.
That’s why even though Francesca’s win is a surprise, I think it’s also an inspiration.
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