Australian Open 2011: Courage Under Fire, Schiavone vs Kuznetsova

Posted: January 23, 2011 by rjsays in Australian Open 2011, Tennis
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Rajat jain

Head of Tennis, CouchExpert

23 January 2011

The scoreboard says 11-10 in the third set, Francesca Schiavone to serve for the match. The timer reads more than four hours—only minutes away from the longest women’s singles match in a Grand Slam.  But she is looking sick. She has her hand on her heart, trying to control her breathing rate. And at 29, after playing more than four hours of physically draining match, you cannot blame her. She calls for the trainer and takes a medical timeout—that when she was serving for the match.

F_schiavone_23_01

Francesca Schiavone

After her three minutes, Svetlana Kuznetsova called for her trainer too and treat her foot. She had already called for a trainer at the end of the second set, to work on her blisters—she had played the entire third set suffering from blisters.

Before this moment, Schiavone had already saved six match points, and squandered three break point opportunities at 0-40—one of them by tipping over the net while successfully reaching to a Kuznetsova volley! The drama had already reached its unexpected proportions.

And yet, Kuznetsova, the mental widget stroke two courageous forehand winners to keep the match alive at 11-11. And astonishingly, they continue to hold for six more games as the match gets to 4:21 hrs making it the longest match in women’s history. And unlike the men’s longest match—the famous Isner-Mahut saga—it was not a serving contest. They could not serve big, in fact, their serves were in the 120s and 130s by then. It was an excellent display of all court tennis.

They approached the net a total of 126 times out of 358 points played—more than once every three points. And each of those net approaches were constructed brilliantly by heavy hitting from the baseline, and using intelligent approach shots. Kuznetsova was hitting her forehand better than I have seen, and Schiavone’s defense was unparalleled. It was commendable how she was handling the heavy Kuznetsova forehand with her one handed backhand, and returning it back with interest. When she was made to run around the court, she used her supremely cupped slice backhand—one of the best in women’s game, probably better than even Justine Henin—to get back in the rally, or even gain the upper hand by creating ridiculous angles which left a scrambling Sveta reaching for the ball.

At 14-14 with a break point, Schiavone had to reach away two great volleys from Sveta to earn the break, twisting her calf muscle in the process. A trainer was again called to rub her muscles and two minutes later, she was back hustling around the court, and watched to her dismay as Sveta saved two match points of her own. Schiavone finally hit a service winner out wide to earn her third match point, and ended the next point at the net to achieve a well deserved victory.

Four Four Four. Read the timer—at four hours and forty four minutes, Schiavone finally got her reward—tired legs, fatigue and a quarter final clash with the world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.

Women’s tennis has come under a lot of criticism, with the absence of Serena Williams, injured Justine Henin, a slamless No. 1, and one-dimensional baseline bashers. This match was anything but that. I hate to use superlatives, especially right after an emotional match, but I have to say this was the greatest women’s match I have ever seen. But it was played between a 30 year old and a 26 year old. We have yet to see such variety from the women in their teens or early twenties.

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Comments
  1. goutham says:

    It was incredible on many fronts – variety, commitment, stamina and above all the resolve to keep going deep into the 3rd set. From whatever I know of playing sport, once you reach exhaustion (you do no matter how fit), you rely on muscle memory. Couple it with mental strength, it translates into epic performances. When two do, it becomes even better. You could see the two tired women playing some extraordinary tennis into the 4th and 5th hour of the match creating incredible angles and still scrambling to stay in the match.

    It was just extraordinary. Couldn’t think of spending a Sunday afternoon any better.

    Thanks Rajat for reliving this.

  2. JA Allen says:

    It was the best match of the tournament and luckily I got to watch it. It is the very best side of women’s tennis. Of course, Schiavone had nothing left for Wozniacki – but her run was once again remarkable and I love to watch her play. Great write up. Thanks for covering this match even realizing that women’s tennis seems to take a back seat to the men. This match was superlative – as you so aptly suggest.

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