10-year rewind: Schiavone puts Italy back on the map

 - Chris Oddo

The Milan native's unexpected title in Paris opened the door for a decade of glory for her compatriots

Francesca Schiavone with her trophy at Roland-Garros 2010©Christophe Saïdi / FFT

Francesca Schiavone made a habit of getting down on her knees and kissing the clay during her improbable Roland-Garros title run in 2010. 

But the ultimate kiss was planted on the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen moments after her 6-4, 7-6(2) triumph over Australia’s Sam Stosur in the final. Then 29, Schiavone captured the sport's imagination with her improvisational game and her ability to seize the moment on the biggest clay-court stage.

She rolled through seeded players in five consecutive matches, each victory more surprising than the last, and never seemed burdened with the immense pressure, which she must have felt as the first Italian woman to contest - and win - a Grand Slam final. 

“Pressure? No,” she said, moments after her victory, in a television interview. “I felt many emotions. This morning I was crying and I couldn’t take the car and said ‘you go coach, to play, I don’t want to play’. But in the end I believed so much in myself and I tried to stay focused on my play and not think about other things, just to play and to enjoy, really enjoy from the heart.” 

Schiavone’s success in Paris brought joy to her compatriots, but it also delivered a welcome sense of “why not us?” to a talented generation of women, which would all go on to achieve great things on the Grand Slam stage. 

Flavia Pennetta went on to win the US Open in 2015, defeating Roberta Vinci in the first all-Italian Grand Slam final. Three years earlier, Sara Errani made a stunning run at Roland-Garros, falling to Maria Sharapova in the final in the same year that she claimed the doubles title with Vinci. 

"I think she was the first one to open up the mind of our generation” Errani told rolandgarros.com last week. “I think that happened many times, when one person that you are near, really near, does great things, maybe you can think a little bit more that you can also do it. So it helps all of us to be here and to live great things after her amazing run." 

Corrado Barazzutti was Schiavone’s coach a decade ago, and he said the Italian's third-round victory over Li Na made him believe his charge may be able to do the unthinkable in Paris. 

"Francesca made an unbelievable match, she won 6-4, 6-2," he said. "In that match I saw something. Francesca beat this player that was very, very strong. I said 'Now I think you can win this tournament,' and it happened. She won an unbelievable match in the final against Stosur, she played unbelievable." 

Francesca Schiavone, Roland Garros 2010, final© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Barazzutti, who has also served time as Italy’s Fed Cup and Davis Cup captain, said Italian men also owed a lot of their success to Schiavone. 

"It's true, Francesca was a really big inspiration for the women but I think a bit for the men as well, because now we have a great movement in men's tennis,” he said. "We have two of the best young players in the world, maybe the best young players in the world."

Matteo Berrettini, now 24 and Italy’s top-ranked male player, remembers Schiavone’s epic title run in 2010 well. 

“I remember it was a really big thing for us, to Italy, for the sport in general,” he said. “Francesca used to be a real fighter in the court, it was really impressive.

Francesca Schiavone during Roland-Garros 2018©Philippe Montigny/FFT

"It was a really great period that we [experienced] some years ago with her, with Flavia, with Sara, with Roberta. I think we had a great period for the girls. Now we hope to have the same period with the guys.”

Schiavone’s team wore t-shirts emblazoned with the motto “Nothing is impossible” during the final in Paris. With her operatic tennis and unyielding fight, Schiavone turned that catchphrase into a movement.

“She opened your mind that you can use that thinking that it can be possible," Errani said. 

Improbable? Seemingly impossible? Take your pick. Prior to Roland-Garros in 2010 Schiavone had taken part in the main draw at 38 Grand Slams, and never reached beyond the quarter-finals. The Italian summed up her magic best on court after she lifted the trophy. 

“Expectations? No, but dream always,” she said. 

Francesca Schiavone Roland-Garros 2010 Paris tour Eiffel.©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT