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.
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.