January 24, 2011
As was the case at Wimbledon, the buzz at this Grand Slam is about a marathon match. Last summer it was John Isner-Nicolas Mahut. In Melbourne it's the epic battle between Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Beyond the broken records, that match was everything we love about tennis and sports in general. We had two champions, already crowned in a Grand Slam, giving us sporting emotion, bravery, beauty and lessons that we can apply to life. What else could be better?
It didn't start out that beautiful though. The first two sets were played poorly. Both players looked unable to play good tennis, perhaps because of two reasons. First, they were tentative with each other, maybe because of the mental and physical fatigue accumulated from their previous matches. That causes tension. Legs don't move correctly, adjustments are sloppy, the timing is wrong and there's not enough energy there to make up for all of this. Let's not forget that Schiavone won 6-4 in the third against Parra Santonja and then 9-7 in the third against Rebecca Marino, and that Kuznetsova had to work hard in order to defeat Justine Henin. They entered this match with fatigue.
After splitting the first two sets, the two began a fierce battle in the third that ended in a 30-game, three-hour epic. How did we go from mediocre tennis at the start to sublime tennis at the ending?
The first thing was their ability to focus. During this famous third set, both players remained on an event keel non-stop with nary a let down. Had they done so, it would have been lethal. It shows me that people possess more inside them than they think. The physical and mental fatigue were so high, but they still found inspiration in little things, hit the right shots at the right time, played with the proper tempo, hit from perfect spots and paced with flawless speed. This led to some amazing rallies and shotmaking.
They were able to believe strongly enough that the opponent would go down before themselves. Without it, one or the other would have given up much earlier. Nobody cracked. Remember, Schiavone served nine times in order to remain in the match! You don't hold serve nine times without some fortitude.
At no time, despite all the missed opportunities, did they let discouragement take over. Even when struggling on match points (Kuznetsova once had three at 0-40 while returning serve) or losing serve (Schiavone was twice broken while serving to win), both players found a way to regroup and keep fighting. Each time that one or the other was in a real danger, they displayed some huge mental strength in order to go for winners. It lasted for three hours.
Francesca Schiavone found a little something at the end that made a big difference. In the game that gave her the victory, she went for the tight shots that helped win her the French Open. She went for those points one by one. With some big intentions, she came to the net and succeeded to both put pressure on her rival and set up the point to win it. Each shot led to the next. And each one led to a victory.
Four hours, 42 minutes after it began, the match was won by Schiavone. In matches like this, will leads to victory. Winners are decided by who wants it more. Sometimes, it takes a little longer than usual.