Today Francesca Schiavone stunned the tennis world by becoming the (very popular) French Open champion. Daily Tennis has a habit of interviewing players we find interesting at Eastbourne every year, and a surprising number of them seem to go on to achieve great things. This intervie took place in 2006, when Schiavone was number 11 in the world and hoping to become the first Italian woman in the top ten. It didn't happen that year: instead, after coming oh-so-close, she began to struggle. Meanwhile Flavia Pennetta passed her in the rankings to become Italy's number 1 player and, last August, became the first Italian woman in the top ten. Now, Schiavone has (at last) joined her. The French Open title will take her to number 7 on Monday. She is currently probably my favorite player to watch because in a world of monocultural baseliners she plays so many surprising and varied shots - and because she has such fierce passion for the game.
Daily Tennis, June 23, 2006
Francesca Schiavone wasn't having a good day today: she lost to Kim Clijsters in the Eastbourne quarter-final 6-2,6-1, in very windy conditions. Clijsters was playing - and, especially, moving - well, but even she admitted that Schiavone made a lot of errors and more or less handed her the match.
In fact, this is Schiavone's 11th loss in a row to Clijsters, whom she has never beaten.
"It's more mental," says Schiavone, when asked why she has such a hard time. "She likes to play against me." Exactly what it is about her game that Clijsters likes doesn't seem to be clear to her, but she notes that Clijsters is always focused, and that means it's just not easy, even if she's feeling better on court than she was today.
If you haven't seen Schiavone play, you should: the Italian is completely unlike today's baselining biff-bang-crash-wallop clones. Muscular but short - the WTA lists her height at 5'5.5", Schiavone makes a living scrambling for everything and making unexpected spins and angles. Her game, she agrees, is different from the other Italians. It's different from anybody. Asked where her inspiration comes from, she shrugs and says, "It's just me. I'm crazy like that."
And to hear her tell it, crazy is how she likes to be. She likes fast cars, bungee jumping..."I like everything that's dangerous." But to her, that's normal; it's about enjoying life. "For me, what would be crazy is to stay home and watch television or read a book or study for ten hours." She reads - but for an hour or two, not all day. A book, she says, is "beautiful".
Also "beautiful" is the experience she's having right now: she has Martina Navratilova helping her to understand how to play on grass. "She is really incredible," she says. "She is sensible, and she has eyes that can understand so good the player." Coaches know technique, but since most have not been champions themselves they don't quite understand the emotions on co0urt. Navratilova knows all about the emotions of match play - but she also understands technique.
"It is the best experience I've had in tennis and in life," says Schiavone.
Ranked in the top fifteen, Schiavone has been knocking on the door of the top ten; she would be the first Italian female player to achieve it, a historical fact she's well aware of. She makes knocking gestures and shakes her head: knocking doesn't work. "I hae to break the door," she says, miming elbow thrusts and karate kicks at the imaginary door. But the ranking isn't her goal.
"I try to improve every day," she says. "Learn from victory and learn from when I lose. The big goal for me is to feel good."