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Schiavone, the lioness is still roaring

By Guillaume Willecoq   on   Monday 22 February 2016
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Francesca Schiavone triumphed in Rio de Janeiro to open the women’s clay-court season at the age of 35 years, 7 months and 29 days, meaning that the 2010 Roland-Garros winner is the fourth oldest woman to win a WTA tournament... and the oldest ever on clay!

 I wrote this speech this morning, regardless of the result of the match, because I wanted to share my joy with you. Today is one of the greatest days in my life. Your smiles fulfilled my days here and I feel very emotional to be here, in front of you. I feel proud. It is as if I had completed a masterpiece. I now feel free – free to jump around left, right and centre, and to take my leave from this wonderful place with a real pride in what I have achieved. It was a perfect week. I saved a match point in the quarters, I won the final despite losing the first set… It really was a scary scenario."

To see her "jump around left, right and centre" on Centre Court at the Rio Open before pouring out her heart in Portuguese to the crowd as she read her speech, one thing was perfectly clear – Francesca Schiavone still absolutely loves playing tennis. The Italian won the seventh title of her career in Brazil and the sixth on clay, the crowning glory of which being of course the French Open in 2010.

No retirement in sight for the oldest winner of a WTA clay tournament

Six years ago, the woman from Milan was already breaking records, becoming the oldest women’s player to win her maiden Grand Slam in the Open era. And now this title in Rio de Janeiro, to open the women’s 2016 clay season, makes her the oldest winner of a WTA tournament on clay, at the age of 35 years, 7 months and 29 days, and the fourth oldest on any surface, behind Billie Jean King (39 years and 7 months in Birmingham, on grass, in 1983), Kimiko Date (38 years and 11 months in Seoul, hard courts, in 2009) and Martina Navratilova (37 years and 9 months in Paris on the indoor carpet of the Coubertin Stadium in 1994).

Throughout the week, the one known in Italy as "La leonessa" ("the lioness", due to her never-say-die attitude in the Fed Cup, where she holds the record for the number of wins for Italy), was made to suffer. She struggled against Mariana Duque Marino in round two (6-4, 4-6, 7-5), saved a match point in the quarters against Cindy Burger (3-6, 7-6(6), 6-3) and came from behind after making a poor start to the final against Shelby Rogers (2-6, 6-2, 6-2). Never one to back down when faced with a challenge, "Cesca" certainly earned this seventh title, and she is not brooking any talk of retirement. After all, she is still capable of pulling out all the stops, as she demonstrated in her win over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the first round at Roland-Garros last year (6-7, 7-5, 10-8), in what was by common accord the stand-out match in the women’s draw. "The word ‘retirement’ is not yet part of my vocabulary,” she said on Sunday. “I hope that this win will give me motivation for the rest of the season. I’ll stop when the time comes. Whether that is after a first-round loss or a title win remains to be seen. But while I’m still having wonderful experiences like this one, I’m going to carry on."

Cuevas makes it four

The Rio Open was a combined event, and in the men’s ATP 500 tournament, it was Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas who emerged victorious. He too earned his silverware after hanging tough to overcome Rafael Nadal in the semis (6-7, 7-6, 6-4) and Guido Pella in the final 6-4, 6-7, 6-4, spending six hours on court, give or take a minute or two, in a little over 24 hours!

Cuevas first shot to fame at Roland-Garros in 2008, when he and Peru’s Luis Horna created quite a surprise by winning the men’s doubles. He now has four ATP singles titles to his name and all of them on clay, with Rio coming after Bastad and Umag in 2014, and Sao Paulo in 2015. He is enjoying quite an Indian summer after recently turning 30 and also being forced to miss almost two years of tennis after suffering a serious knee injury in 2011.

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