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The record, to get the eye-popping stat out of the way, was the four and three-quarter hour, fourth-round match between Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova, both with French Open titles to their credit and both with refreshingly big personalities.
With Henin’s scalp in the bag and a perfect hard-court head–to-head against her good friend Schiavone, Kuznetsova looked ready to find the form that saw her in the top five for five years.
But her good friend, the Italian fire-cracker, has been revelling in the highest ranking of her 13th year on the pro tour. Twenty-four days into 2011 and it had the makings of the best women’s match of the year…
A couple of days after sending Henin packing, Sveta went into this match as a marginal favorite against the Roland Garros champion. No one could have predicted the plot lines of this thriller, however, least of all the two women involved.
As Schiavone scrambled to take the first set 6-4 in her vintage warrior style, Sveta quite simply outplayed the Italian in the second, hitting cold-clock winners. At her best, Sveta is indeed one of the purest ball strikers in the game, taking the ball early on the rise and from well inside the baseline.
As they went deep into the third, for once Rod Laver Arena played supporting act to Hisense’s Al Pacino act. News spread through Garden’s Square and every seat inside was filled to watch these champions in action.
“I was watching the clock,” Schiavone revealed. “I said to myself, ‘Brava, Francesca, you are tough physically.’ So it’s great for me, because I work to do this.”
The day morphed into twilight and Schiavone was serving second throughout the final set. As Sveta earned herself multiple match points (six of them), Schiavone time and again saved them by simply refusing to lose. She served for the match more than twice, only for Sveta to break back. As the crowd watched, the clock ticked past four hours. Two gladiators on top of their game refusing to cave in, exhibiting almost a pathological need to win.
At four hours and 44 minutes, Schiavone served for the match at 15-14 to eventually close it out as the basking sunset bathed Hisense.
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.
It belongs to the one who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasms and great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows the triumph of high achievement and at worst—if he fails—at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." (Theodore Roosevelt)