Sunday, January 23, 2011

So Classic it Hurts

Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova took 4-hours and 44-minutes to complete their epic battle on Hisense. Next comes years of waiting for a better match to occur.
Roll over, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.

Yesterday's inimitable stroke-a-thon on Hisense is all the rage at the moment, and rightfully so, because there hasn't been a better match — men's or women's — in a long, long, time.

But these things do tend to happen every so often.

It is, after all, the nature of tennis. Tennis's diabolical scoring system encourages this rare, compelling form of mental torture that players must endure on a regular basis. Spontaneous combustion is typical. Matches can go from relatively nondescript to genuine cliffhangers in rapid fashion, and we've already seen that on many occasions during the first week of this Australian Open.

But then, there are those contests that are the nexus of all the elements of an unbelievable match, magically poured into one potion and served, all steaming and frothy like a perfect latte to a thirsting audience.

This is what we witnessed yesterday. Two animals (thank Svetlana for that term) locked in a bitter war of wills, poised at a precipice where suddenly the background noise filters away and all that matters is ONE THING. If Schiavone and Kuznetsova were wolves, their teeth would be showing, their hair would be standing in a ridge along their spines, and THERE WOULD BE BLOOD.

I mention Isner-Mahut rolling over because I think it is necessary, in testament to the exalted efforts of Kuznetsova and Schiavone, to do so. I've come to the conclusion that Schiavone-Kuznetsova was a better match than Isner-Mahut, and that if you matched them up side-by-side, you'd see that the calibre of play, and the closeness of the competition on a point-by-point basis made this match so much more delectable to watch.

Where Isner and Mahut smashed aces at one another for three days, Kuznetsova and Schiavone played long effusive points, in which improbably athletic shots became relatively commonplace. Where Isner and Mahut played love game after love game, Kuznetsova and Schiavone scrambled, hit, giggled, stretched, and launched themselves through long deuce-laden games that were colored with a competitive fury the likes of which I don't ever remember seeing.

But enough about Isner-Mahut, and enough with comparisons. I've only used these examples to ensure that this match — this hairy, spine-tingling, delirium-enhancing dogfight to end all dogfights — gets written into the tennis scriptures alongside those other instant classics that will forever be cherished by the tennis faithful.

Now onto the imagery: Of their faces, blank at times, and weary from a taxing battle that seemed interminable, tortuous, and macabre. Of their faces, teeth-baring, superlative-muttering, angry, overjoyed, mournful, elated — riding the cusps of waves that came and went as rapidly of those of the Gold Coast.

Of their level of play, so sublime for this type of a match, when it would be so easy to drop level by level as fatigue set in. Of their athleticism, again unmarred by fatigue, and their ability to play profound shot after profound shot under extreme pressure that would have made so many players wilt.

Of the changeovers: Francesca's banana's and Svetlana's blank stares; Francesca's chest massage and Svetlana's raw feet.

Of Svetlana's Nadal-like sprint to the baseline with Schiavone readying to serve at 12-13.

Of Schiavone's kamikaze forays to the net, when we couldn't believe she could still stand.

Of the new record for match duration for women's singles in Grand Slam play being a mere afterthought in comparison to the emotional gravitas of the event.

Of Schiavone's remarkable defense. Of Kuznetsova's heavy artillery.

Of the sheer paradox of the level of physicality that both player's miraculously maintained until the bitter end.

And finally of the bitter end and the subdued elation, because eventually, we all knew it would end — we just weren't sure what it would take to end it.

Now we know. Nine match points, and an exquisite form of torture.

Nothing more, nothing less.


  1. Chris,

    Thanks for this great post on a classic match. I hope Fran & Sveta read it.


  2. Captured it! No losers here at all. These two delivered the goods.

  3. great post. and the wait for another classic begins in 1...2...

  4. Thanks for the report. Did you watch the entire match?

    I tuned in at about 7-6 in the third set expecting that it would be over in around 10 minutes, and that was very entertaining. That might be the best clutch play I've ever seen from two players in a women's match (and considering what stage it was in the match too). Also, I had never seen so many winners point after point with the variety they both showed too.

  5. I saw the final set and I really didn't want it to end. I also agree with you, better than Isner and Mahut. And all the more better because it was a women's match.


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