2010 French Open Women's Final: No Dessert for Samantha Stosur

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2010 French Open Women's Final: No Dessert for Samantha Stosur
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Samantha Stosur forgot to save her best for the last. On the all important Saturday it was Italy’s Francesca Schiavone who stole the thunder and left very little for the Australian to work with. Stosur has been the star of Roland Garros this year with her taut and imposing physique and, more importantly, her steely nerves that served her so well in matches against higher-ranked and more-experienced opponents.

The New York Times reported: ‘Stosur, 26, had beaten Schiavone four of the previous five times they played, including in the first round of the 2009 French Open. Stosur was seeded 32nd and Schiavone was unseeded, demonstrating just how much their fortunes have changed in one year.

For most of two weeks, Stosur looked like the best player in the tournament. She plowed through the draw, beating four-time French Open champion Justine Henin , current No. 1 Serena Williams , and No. 4 Jelena Jankovic in the semifinal.’

“I kind of expected her to be aggressive because in the other times that we played recently she probably wasn’t (aggressive) enough and I totally dictated what had happened and I won them,” Stosur said.

“She went for it today and everything came off. It takes guts to do that and she did it. I don’t think I can really say I did anything wrong. It was just well done to her.”

It was the powerful serve of Stosur and her accurate and lethal forehand that made it possible for her to come out alive from the death draw that she had. She was a set down against Henin and saved a match point against Serena to emerge as the winner in two three-set battles. She so completely destroyed Jankovic in the semis that the former World No. 1 paid her a huge compliment by saying that ‘Stosur has the game of a man’. In any match of power against power, it was Stosur who came out victorious.

Schiavone, though, drowned her with guile and defense. The Italian was more enterprising and alive to the situation and being the underdog she got the crowd going for her. Stosur couldn’t respond as well to being the favourite as she had to being the unfancied.     

In two big battles previously it was the third set that saw Stosur come out and dominate proceedings but the final proved to be like quicksand for her. The entry was quick and sudden and extrication became impossible. Stosur had her chances in the second set when she was up 4-1, but Schiavone displayed great variety to draw level. The Italian’s net play, in defiance of clay court logic, rewarded her and Stosur failed to take the battle to the third set where the Italian may have found it hard to hang in with the powerful Aussie.

The odds were stacked against the Italian as Stosur was the hot favourite; perhaps the best indicator of it was that Schiavone’s camp wore T-shirts saying ‘Nothing is Impossible’. The Italian showed that she believed in the leitmotif.  

Greg Baum of The Age reported: “Stosur leaves a little hollow-hearted, perhaps, but not empty-handed. She has her biggest cheque, her highest ranking—No. 7—and the scalps of No. 1s Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic as souvenirs. Coach Dave Taylor dared to suggest before the final that she was playing as one of the top three players in the world. The memory will abide; Wimbledon is just a fortnight away.

From the beginning, Stosur did not play with abandon of her epic, successive victories over Henin, Williams and Jankovic. Schiavone was the aggressor, also tactically more astute, worrying away at Stosur’s more brittle backhand. Stosur’s own weapons—her forehand and her high, kicking serve—were blunted. They were evenly enough matched; there was no break point until they stood 4-4. Stosur conceded it with a double fault, and it was enough to forfeit the set.

Schiavone was the first winner of the French Open from outside the top 10 since 1933. Even by the standards of the French Open, which regularly throws up results as eccentric as the French themselves, this was a curio. Beforehand, the world did not know what to make of this one. The US media ignored it. The English, in one instance, sneered at it. “Is this the worst grand slam final ever?” asked the Daily Telegraph .

From a British publication, still pining for Virginia Wade, this was snippy. These perhaps were journeywomen, who met last year in the first round of this tournament, but they came this year as reborn players, both defeating a string of eminent players. That is how tournaments are played. That is how major championships are won.”

The Telegraph came up with another gem which said that last year they were both playing in one of the side courts to reach the last 64 of the French Open with just some people who drift in and then go away for lunch as the audience .

Today, Paris is being asked to care about Stosur and Schiavone, to make some emotional investment in the Australian and the Italian.

Stosur and Schiavone are to appear on Court Philippe Chatrier, in front of a crowd of 15,000, and in front of whatever television audience this match attracts, as they will be playing for the French Open title, for La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.

You have to wonder what Lenglen, the original tennis diva and celebrity, would make of this final. Since all the name players of the modern women’s game have been knocked out of the tournament, it is a couple of girls from the chorus line, Australia’s world No. 7 and Italy’s world No. 17, who are left. Only in Milan and on Australia’s Gold Coast, where they will be watching in the middle of the night, is this meeting of two Grand Slam final debutants guaranteed to make an impact.”

Sam Stosur was better known as a doubles player till about 2007 when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease and was out of action for 10 months. A lot of people involved with the game of Stosur have said that it was her fight with the disease that brought out her tough steely side to the fore. Regardless of the indifferent coverage by the British media, Samantha Stosur has got everything to be the next tennis superstar. She has already made a huge impact in Paris, in front of television audience around the world, and London should wait for her with bated breath.      

On Friday night, the eve of the final, Stosur and Schiavone found themselves just a few metres away from each other as they dined with their coaches and friends at Ristorante Napoletano, a small Italian restaurant in the back streets of Paris that had become a favourite of both the players. 

For about two hours, Stosur and Schiavone dined on Italian fare and chatted with their entourage, neither acknowledging the other’s presence. Stosur dined on calamari, tomato and mozzarella and pasta while Schiavone had spaghetti carbonara. Schiavone, who had a small tiramisu, was the only one to order some dessert.

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