Schiavone seals Stosur final with a kiss

PARIS, (Reuters) – Gustavo Kuerten once etched a  heart on centre court at Roland Garros, Francesca Schiavone just  knelt down and planted a kiss on its red dust surface yesterday as a career spent in the shadows finally blossomed.

And this was just the semi-final.

Quite what she will do if she beats Samantha Stosur on  Saturday and becomes the first Italian woman to win a grand slam  singles title is anybody’s guess.

Appropriately for a tournament of surprises, women’s  semi-finals day produced two more upsets as first Schiavone, who  turns 30 this month and is contesting her 39th grand slam  tournament, then Australia’s rapidly improving Stosur made it  through to their first major singles finals.

New kids on the block they most certainly are not, but they  have shaken up the established order this week. Schiavone was helped by the fact that fifth seed Elena  Dementieva was struck by a calf injury and was unable to  continue after the Russian lost the first set on a tiebreak.

Stosur, 26, then benefitted from a truly shocking display by  fourth seed Jelena Jankovic, racing to a 6-1 6-2 victory in  exactly an hour. Jankovic said she had been taken by surprise by  being called to court so quickly.

Both winners fully deserved their fortune even if the Court  Philippe Chatrier crowd basking in the Parisian sunshine would  have felt a little short-changed as both matches were done and  dusted in just over two hours. Schiavone, the oldest of the four semi-finalists, all of  whom were seeking a first grand slam singles title, nearly  perished in the first round here this year but has gone from  strength to strength since with her wily spin game.

After defeating world number three Caroline Wozniacki in the  quarter-finals she set about Dementieva with similar intensity  but appeared to be locked into a real battle before, suddenly,  her tearful opponent offered her hand.

There had been barely a hint of the calf injury that forced  28-year-old Dementieva to quit and Schiavone was as surprised as  anybody in the stadium before it dawned on her that she was  through to the final.

Cue the kissing.

“It was good. So good,” the Milanese player told reporters  when asked how the court tasted.

“I know that she was injured somewhere but I didn’t ask,  because the most important thing is to keep going with my  playing. When I saw her, I thought, ‘Do you need something?’

“For 10 seconds, many seconds, I didn’t realise. Then when  she shook my hand I knew it was finished.”

Stosur, despite not seeing a claycourt until she was 15, has  slightly more form at Roland Garros, having reached the semis  last year, losing to eventual champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.

UNLOCKED POTENTIAL

That run unlocked her potential and she went on to win her  first Tour event in Osaka while this year she is the most  consistent player on claycourts.

She outplayed four-times French Open champion Justine Henin  in the fourth round here and then showed true Aussie grit to  eliminate world number one Serena Williams in the quarter-finals  after saving match point.

She was simply too good for Jankovic, who afterwards  described playing Stosur as like “playing against a man”.

With a vicious, kicking topspin serve, Jankovic spent most  of the one-sided contest fending at balls way above shoulder  height. Her game fell apart and the only thing dazzling on her  side of the net was her bright yellow dress.

Stosur is looking forward to trying to become Australia’s  first women’s singles champion at a grand slam since Evonne  Goolagong at Wimbledon in 1980.

“I probably couldn’t have asked to play a much better match  today in the semi-finals,” Stosur told reporters. “So to do that  today and now be in my first final is just incredible.

“We’re both going to be excited. It’s a great opportunity  for both of us. I’m just looking forward to it.”

The first silverware at this year’s championship was handed  out yesterday when Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia and Slovenia’s  Katarina Srebotnik won the mixed doubles title against Austrian  Julian Knowle and Kazakhstan’s Yaroslava Shvedova.

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