french capital

HISTORY FOR SCHIAVONE AND NADAL: THE FRIDAY FIVE

By Maud Watson

A Veteran’s Historic Moment – Francesca Schiavone is not a household name to the casual sports fan. Her run to the Roland Garros women’s final was a quiet one that included a retirement from her opponent Elena Dementieva in the semis. Her foe in the final was Sam Stosur, the woman who had taken out Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and Jelena Jankovic in three consecutive matches to reach the final. Stosur also owned a 4-1 win-loss record against Schiavone. The Aussie came in equipped with a bigger serve, more powerful groundstrokes and a better 2010 season leading up to that point. But on that sunny Saturday afternoon in Paris, none of that mattered. Schiavone earned a lot of fans that day, including myself, as she played a spectacular match littered with positive emotions from beginning to end to become the first Italian woman to ever win a singles major title. What made her performance all the more impressive was that Schiavone herself admitted she never thought she would be in a position to win a Slam and to go out there playing that brand of stellar tennis, realistically knowing that it might be her one and only chance to ever win one of the top four prizes in the sport, is truly admirable.

Back on Top – A name a little more familiar to sports fans is that of Rafael Nadal, who sent a message to the rest of the field during his stay in the French capital. The Spaniard was in a ruthless mood as he cruised to the Roland Garros title for the fifth time in six years, doing so without the loss of a set. His defense against the powerful groundstrokes of Soderling in the final was phenomenal and clearly broke the spirit of the big-banging Swede. The added bonus for Nadal is that the win also propelled him back to No. 1 in the rankings ahead of Roger Federer.  Nadal has gotten that winning feeling back, and it’s set up him nicely going into the short grass court season where he can play with relatively less pressure given that he has no points to defend from 2009.

Double Trouble – While both of the Williams sisters crashed out earlier than either would have liked in the singles competition at the French Open, they didn’t allow that to impact their doubles game. The sisters took the title on the terre bateau, marking their 12th major doubles crown and their first in Paris since 1999. Their run at Roland Garros also assured them the top ranking in doubles, so the Williams sisters now rule the top spots in both the singles and the doubles. Given that when the Williams sisters enter the doubles draw its no secret that everyone else is unofficially playing for second, it’s nice to see them achieve the No. 1 doubles ranking. And love them or hate them, you have to applaud the Williams sisters’ staying power at every level of the game.

Comebacks Abound – The start of the grass court season is seeing its share of comebacks, at least in a manner of speaking. First, there is the return of Nikolay Davydenko, who last played in early March, marking his comeback with a win over Simon Greul in Halle. Given the Russian’s form coming in to the 2010 season, here’s hoping he quickly finds his game and shakes things up at the top of the pack. It was also announced that American Lindsay Davenport would be making a bit of a return to the game, teaming with Bob Bryan for the mixed doubles competition at Wimbledon, as well as with Liezel Huber for some women’s doubles later this summer. Finally, Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo, who left the game last year, will be returning, but not as a player. Mauresmo, a former Wimbledon champion, will be acting as an advisor to fellow compatriot Michel Llodra this grass court season.

Record Set To Be Broken – There were murmurs of it earlier in the year when it was announced that Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin would be facing off in an exhibition to be played post-Wimbledon. Now those murmurs have become official shouts of triumph for the exo organizers, as it was announced that based on the ticket sales, the attendance for the Belgian showdown slated for July 8 will total 30,670. That total will top the previous record of 30,472 that was set during the famous “Battle of the Sexes,” match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King 37 years ago. Congrats to the two Belgians and organizers, and if the match is anything like some of their previous tussles, spectators are in for a real treat.