Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What’s Next For French Open Finalists?

By Luke Broadbent

The two participants in the women's final at Roland Garros were somewhat of a surprise. Samantha Stosur was supposed to be knocked out by Justine Henin, and then she was supposed to lose to Serena Williams. Neither expectation was met. Stosur would book her place in the final, one year after faltering at the semi-final stage.

Francesca Schiavone, on the other hand, was supposed to be out of the tournament in the first week. In 39 attempts at trying to win a major title, her challenge has been halted the first or second round on 17 occasions, so one could be forgiven for expecting an early exit by the Italian.

The final itself failed to capture the imagination of some people, but Schiavone will not be bothered by that. At 29-years-old, she became the second oldest first-time Slam winner in the Open era, but what lies in store for her now.

What's Next For Francesca Schiavone?

Schiavone entered the French Open at No. 17 in the world, the same kind of position that she had occupied for a number of years. Forever fluctuating between the top 10 and 30 positions, she remained a stalwart on the WTA Tour that the big names wouldn't have been pleased to be drawn against, yet they would've known they had enough to beat the battling Italian.

It wasn't until 2007 that she finally won her first singles title, having previously been a runner-up eight times prior to her initial triumph. Since that victory, Schiavone had only gone on to win a further two titles, one of which was earlier this year on the clay in Barcelona. All three of her titles had come in tier three events, giving us no real indication that she was capable of winning a major title.

In her run to the French Open title, she defeated very respectable opposition, including Na Li, Maria Kirilenko, and Caroline Wozniacki. She also took the first set off the highly-fancied Elena Dementieva before the Russian inexplicably retired.

Despite this impressive run, it was, undoubtedly, the final where she impressed the most. She wasn't intimidated by the occasion and played a tactically astute game. For nearly the entire duration of the match, Schiavone had Stosur on the run and never let the Australian play her game.

Schiavone imposed herself on Stosur at any opportunity, often returning very aggressively during Stosur's service games. Schiavone employed this tactic early on in Stosur's service games in order to lay down her marker for the rest of the game, thus forcing Stosur to try and do a little bit extra with her serve.

Schiavone's tactics were superb; her aggression was well-tempered and fruitful; and having played exceptionally well in the second set tie-break, she became the deserved winner.

The future for the game's newest major winner is uncertain. She turns 30 on the third day of Wimbledon, so time isn't on her side, but, then again, it wasn't two weeks ago, either.

Her game has always been solid and quite unspectacular, despite possessing one of the most elegant backhands in the game. In fact, her backhand slice is a weapon she uses extremely well when she is about to approach the net. She often gets good spin on a ball that lands inches from the baseline and in the women's game, there may be nobody better at that type of shot.

Clay is certainly Schiavone's favorite surface, so the transition onto grass and hard courts will not fill her with too much excitement. Last year, however, she did reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, despite her previous best result there being the third-round.

Her game may not suit the surfaces that the Tour hits next, but her French Open victory must surely give her added confidence and belief, as well as now being ranked No. 6 in the world, which should, in theory, give her a more favorable draw.

It would be easy to predict that Schiavone will slip back into the realms of mediocrity and third and fourth-round exits will be commonplace, but, two weeks ago, it was easy to predict a mediocre performance by her at this year's French Open.

What's Next For Samantha Stosur?

Stosur went into the final as favorite, a tag that she hadn't had earlier in the tournament when playing the likes of Henin and Williams. Perhaps, that weight of expectation proved too much for her. Nevertheless, she was out-played and out-classed on the day. It's as simple as that.

Mentally she may never recover, but she would do well to remember that she defeated Williams, Henin and Jelena Jankovic en route to the final, all of whom have occupied the world's No. 1 spot.

On her best day, she can beat anyone, especially given that she possesses one of the best forehands in women's tennis. Her forehand hit with heavy topspin causes problems for pretty much anyone on the WTA Tour. Coupled with this is a very good kick serve, which, similar to her forehand, many of the players struggle to cope with.

Historically, the Australian hasn't performed on grass. She has never been further than the third-round at Wimbledon, though one would expect her game to produce better results on the grass. Stosur has had a very successful doubles career, winning four major titles, and has developed a good serve-and-volley game that could be utilized on the grass, but perhaps her failure on the surface has more to do with the development of the game rather than her inability to execute a solid game plan.

Stosur's best chance of winning a Slam on her own may have gone, but at 26-years-old, she still has time to make an impact according to Schiavone, who is more than qualified to judge.

... And What About the Women's Game?

The women's final was being chastised by journalists before a ball had even been hit. Mark Hodgkinson, a journalist for The Telegraph in the UK, claimed that the final was a "TV turn-off" because of a lack of big-name players. Sadly, he was probably right. It would be naïve to think that this final ranked highly in terms of TV ratings.

Those that did watch the match, in spite of the "superstars" not being present, were treated to a great display of tennis. The women's game has been stagnant for some time now with the prize often going to the most powerful. Well, Schiavone and Stosur proved that the women are more than capable of playing a cerebral match with variety and an abundance of delightful winners.

And above all else, the 2010 French Open may be best remembered for demonstrating the unpredictability of the women's game, something which many tennis fans will embrace with open arms.

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