Saturday, June 5, 2010

Schiavone: Elevating the Underdog

Schiavone's labor of love leads her to the summit of the sport

"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.

7 comments:

  1. Another great post. Having watched the final I couldn't agree with your more. I expected Sam Stosur to win but I was blown away with Francesca's performance.

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  2. Just thrilled for her. What a special day...

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  3. I was blown away too - this was a victory that gives hope to all the great players who are working so hard but never getting the chance to win Slams - IT'S POSSIBLE!

    And I love so much to see someone who is truly elated by the moment. Watching Schiavone kiss that clay three matches in a row is the highlight of 2010.

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  4. Wow! Great effort by both players! Uplifting victory for the Italian, and Samantha, don't hang your head - you're obviously going to see more chances if you keep playing the way you did in Paris!

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  5. Quality post there Chris. You summed up perfectly the day and Francesca's win. I read somewhere else that her names means "France" so perhaps it was her destiny all along.

    Probably will be the biggest tennis story of the year. Fantastico!

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  6. I totally underestimated her, thinking buff Stosur was going to overpower her. It's nice to be wrong. Yes to belief and hard work!!!

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  7. Francesca's enthusiasm and excitement brought me closer to the game. Great to see the unexpected prevail!

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