It took Svetlana Kuznetsova just 74 minutes to clinch the women's French Open title on Saturday, but this was a triumph that was more than a year in the making.
The Russian seventh seed blew away world No.1 Dinara Safina 6-4, 6-2 on Court Philippe Chatrier to secure a triumph that owes everything to her own intuition and desire to battle for her career.
Though Kuznetsova is still just 23, her life has been built around tennis. Over the past year, there were several occasions on which she contemplated walking away from a game that had steadily become a chore to her.
In the end, she had the courage to seek advice, never an easy task in the egocentric world of tennis, from those she respected. Those impromptu counselors included Roger Federer and even Safina's brother, Marat Safin, who gave her a pep talk before the 2008 French Open.
The chat with Safin led to the abandonment, at least temporarily, of retirement plans. The discussion with Federer at the Beijing Olympic Games resulted in a move back to Russia, the homeland she left as a 13-year-old to pursue training opportunities in Spain.
Kuznetsova's game has not directly improved since her return to Moscow, but her mindset has. Indeed, she is believed to spend less time on the practice court now, and a greater portion of her life socializing with friends.
It appears, however, that it was that newfound sense of inner calm which gave her the mental strength to fight past Serena Williams in a nerve-jangling semifinal and to surge away from a nervous Safina on Saturday.
Women's tennis is still looking for one superstar to break clear of the pack and establish herself as the undisputed leader of the sport. Safina had a chance to move some way toward that mark at Roland Garros, but she fluffed her lines when it really mattered after putting together an outstanding tournament. Kuznetsova probably lacks the all-round consistency and weapons to get to No.1, but she is a deserving and worthy champion.
Once again, the women's game has proven itself wide open, and Kuznetsova had the fortitude to grasp an opportunity where others faltered.
- Court Philippe Chatrier