"I'm not so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer." - Albert Einstein
Francesca Schiavone, just eighteen days shy of her 30th birthday, has stayed with the problem long enough.
Today, in front of over 14,000 inspired onlookers in Paris, she finally solved the puzzle.
The determined Italian, who is known as "the lioness" in her homeland because of her zesty let-it-all-hang-out approach to the sport, has rocketed - from virtually out of nowhere - to the pinnacle of tennis in the span of a Paris fortnight. In a moving display of bravado, intellect, and intestinal fortitude, the 5'5" Milan native has revived the collective spirit of the underdog by upsetting the more powerful - and by many accounts more talented - Samantha Stosur of Australia.
How did she do it? Or, better yet, how did she believe that she could do it?
There was a rich and vibrant emotional hue emanating from Schiavone today, in the face of a daunting opponent who had been laying waste to former No 1 players with relative ease in her previous three matches. Even when Stosur made her first eight serves of the match, Schiavone never batted an eye, pouring in a few aces of her own to hold serve against her muscle-bound opponent, when many a lesser player would have already wilted.
Ah, courage. Ah, belief. They are worth their weight in gold, that's for sure. The lesson that Schiavone taught a shocked bevy of spectators and television viewers today is that if you have the courage to believe, and if you believe that your courage will make a difference, you can do anything.
While Stosur seemed to struggle with the density of the moment, Schiavone held her nerve and played the same brand of spontaneous, visceral tennis that had helped her push past Na Li, Maria Kirilenko, Caroline Wozniacki, and Elena Dementieva in the previous four rounds (without losing a set, mind you).
She was exuberant, yet at the same time, zeroed in and calm. There was no stutter in her step, no hitch in her swing, no doubt in her mind - this was the moment she had been craving all her life, and lo and behold, the lioness wasn't going to let fear or doubt keep her from doing her job.
"I think it's my time now, maybe before I wasn't ready," Schiavone told reporters after her semifinal victory.
Apparently she had reliable sources.
It was her time. But it wouldn't have been her time had she not played such exquisite tennis. It wouldn't have been her time if she hadn't had employed and executed the perfect gameplan to take the lethal Aussie out of her comfort zone. And most of all, it wouldn't have been her time had she not known that it was her time.
Dreams do come true, but only if the foundation is made of blood, sweat, and tears.
For Schiavone, it's been nine years in the top-50, and six out of seven in the top-20.
"I think it's coming from the inside," Schiavone said, after her quarterfinal defeat of Caroline Wozniacki. "Because when you work a lot, hard every morning, and every afternoon of your life, and is arriving at a good result, I think you feel much more than to play always easy."
All that hard work will leave Schiavone at No. 6 in the WTA rankings on Monday. After a career of living for the dream, the feisty Italian is now officially living the dream.
"I always dream, yes. I always believe in myself. Not about the trophy or tournament, but just on myself. I think was the key for everything," she said.
Underdogs the world over are taking heed.