What a difference a year makes, especially in tennis.
Last year, it was Svetlana Kuznetsova who held the trophy, beating Dinara Safina in an easy straight-sets win. This year, after the French Open, Kuznetsova will fall out of the top 10, while Safina will be in the less-than-well-known group of the below 20s.
What a difference a year makes, especially at the French Open.
This year at Roland Garros, a new Grand Slam champion will be holding the trophy. Last year, in one particular first round, it was a 30th-seeded Samantha Stosur against unseeded Francesca Schiavone.
This year? It is No. 7 Sam Stosur vs No. 17 Francesca Schiavone battling it out for the championship. Since when was this going to happen? Since never.
Road to the Final
Sam Stosur did most of the grunt work in this tournament, defeating three former World No. 1's in three consecutive matches, including current No. 1 Serena Williams.
Stosur defeated Henin, the "Comeback Queen" and "Queen of Clay," 1-6, 6-2, 6-4. Henin was riding an incredible streak here at Roland Garros, having not lost to anyone since 2004. After that match, I had a hunch that Stosur could pull off another upset in beating Serena, and she did—and by saving a match point.
What time can you ever think of "Serena the Mental Rock" ever squandering a match point? The only one in recent memory was at Rome this year to Jankovic. Stosur won the battle 6-2, 6-7(2), 8-6.
And speaking of Jankovic, Stosur demoralized Jankovic in the semis, 6-1, 6-2. After that match, I had a feeling that Stosur would hold up the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
Now, to Francesca Schiavone, who is still winning against better players in the tournament of her life. Her previous best results in a Grand Slam was the quarterfinals at the French Open (a decade ago!) and at the US Open. Along the way to the final, Schiavone beat Elena Dementieva, Caroline Wozniacki, and others.
Stosur will have to combine her tactics that she used against Henin and Jankovic. Stosur's high, bouncing kick serve will definitely trouble the one-handed backhand of Schiavone.
Her heavy forehand should be used to try and open up the court or get short balls to put away easy winners. Stosur should try to run around her backhand as much as possible because of her weaknesses in her backhand.
But like against Jankovic, Stosur has to be patient because Schiavone is a counter-puncher, although she can be aggressive occasionally. If Stosur happens to do a drop shot, it has to be very well disguised and very close to the net because Schiavone's quick feet can get to almost anything.
Schiavone is a counter-puncher, although she is quite good on the offense, too. In order for her to win, she has to try to create sharp angled shots to Stosur's backhand, which wouldn't allow Stosur to run around to her forehand, and also further expose another Stosur weakness—her movement.
Schiavone is also good up at the net and uses her good volleys to create winners.
What I find interesting about their tactics is that this might be a match where the players try to "out-spin" each other. Both Stosur and Schiavone have the same racket, the black string one that lets you hit through the ball, and makes top spin bounce higher and slice stay lower.
Both players will be in their first slam final, although Stosur made it to the semis here last year. Stosur and Schiavone will probably have some nerves, and suffer a serious bout of them if she is close to claiming the French Open crown.
Stosur has proven to be mentally fragile a la Serena in Sydney last year, where she wasted four match points. But at this French Open, Stosur has suffered a bit from nerves, but composed herself just like Schiavone did.
What's On the Line
Stosur, if she wins, will be the first Australian to win a Grand Slam since Evonne Goolagong Cawley did in 1980, and the first one to win here since Margaret Court in 1973.
Schiavone is right now the first Italian ever in a major final, and if she wins, obviously she will be the only Italian to ever win a major.
If Stosur wins here, she will become the world No. 6, and the same of Schiavone. Schiavone is already guaranteed to be in the top 10, at world No. 7, if she loses.
Stosur leads the head-to-head series, 4-1. Stosur lost the first meeting, but won the two meetings on clay. Another thing is that Stosur beat Schiavone in the final of Osaka, which was her first single title.
Prediction : Stosur in two close sets.