Carousel at Montmartre
Last year, Sam Stosur defeated Fancesca Schiavone 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the French Open. She went on to defeat Yanina Wickmayer, Elena Dementieva, Virginie Razzano, and Sorana Cirstea. Not bad for someone who considered clay her weakest surface. Stosur then went out in the semifinals, to eventual champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
This year, Stosur and Schiavone meet again, only this time, they will play in the final. Here are the players they defeated to reach this point:
STOSUR--Simona Halep, Rossana De Los Rios, Tsvetana Pivovarova, Justine Henin (22), Serena Williams (1), Jelena Jankovic (4)
SCHIAVONE--Regina Kulikova, Sophie Ferguson, Li Na (11), Maria Kirilenko (30), Caroline Wozniacki (3), Elena Dementieva (5) [ret.]
So the hottest clay court player on the tour will play one of the tour's most respected clay court specialists to determine who will be a first-time French Open champion. They have played each other five times, and Stosur has won the last four contests. She also won both matches they played on clay.
A couple of years ago, Schiavone's results were so poor, I thought she might announce her retirement. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she began playing some of the best tennis of her career. She has been in ten singles finals, but it was only a few years ago that she started winning them as she finally conquered some of her big match anxiety. She now holds three titles, the latest of which is the 2010 Barcelona championship. Schiavone reached the round of 16 at the Australian Open this year, and last year, she reached the quarterfinals oat Wimbledon (of all places), and the round of 16 at the U.S. Open. She and friend Flavia Pennetta are, of course, the unofficial queens of Fed Cup.
Stosur, long known as a doubles champion, feared she might lose her career a few years ago. She became ill in 2007, and it was a long time before the diagnosis of Lyme Disease was given to her. She was off the tour for several months, and gradually worked her way back. She had always shown potential in singles play because of her outstanding first and second serves, and her volleying skills. However, an inability to close big matches (see "Schiavone") haunted her. Finally, in 2009, she won her first tournament, in Osaka. Her opponent? Francesca Schiavone.
It was in April of this year, however, that the Australian really announced herself as a singles player to the tennis world: She won the Family Circle Cup, running over 2008 finalist Vera Zvonareva, 6-0, 6-3, in the final. We all discovered that she could play well on clay, and indeed, she has now won more matches on clay this season than any other player.
It's hard to imagine finding anyone who would have predicted that the last two women standing at Roland Garros would be Stosur and Schiavone, but this is the French Open, where upsets are the norm. With one veteran clay expert and one brand new clay expert ready to appear on Court Philippe Chatrier on Saturday, fans can only look forward to the action.