French Open Tennis 2011: 10 Reasons Francesca Schiavone Can Repeat

Alex SandersonCorrespondent IIIMay 27, 2011

French Open Tennis 2011: 10 Reasons Francesca Schiavone Can Repeat

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    In the 2010 French Open, Italian veteran Francesca Schiavone emerged out of nowhere to capture her first career grand slam. After Sam Stosur knocked out Justine Henin and Serena Williams in back to back rounds, a real opportunity was given to Schiavone and others. She jumped on the chance like she'd been planning it for years, playing the match of her life in the final to defeat Sam Stosur.

    The No. 5 seed is now looking to win back-to-back French Open titles. After her third round opponent Shuai Peng retired with upper respiratory problems in the second set, she is one step closer to that goal.

    The following is a list of 10 reasons she can make it come to fruition.


1. The Women's Field Is Wide Open

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    When this tournament began, there was no real dominate favorite looked upon to win the title. Many people could pick out at least ten names that had a legitimate shot at going all the way.

    How does this affect the veteran Italian? Without a dominant force she has to worry about, she can just play her game and take each match one at a time, instead of worrying about what is coming later.

    As long as she brings her top game, she's good enough to beat anyone on a given day.

2. Her Experience

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    Schiavone is one of just two players left in the draw that have won this title before (Svetlana Kuznetzova) and one of just three players left that have won a grand slam tournament (Maria Sharapova).

    Not to mention she is one of the oldest players in the draw, and experience has already shown to be an important factor in this event. For example, Sharapova's savvy really got her through her second round match against 17-year-old Caroline Garcia, who was up a set and two breaks before falling apart.

    Schiavone is also the latest player to experience glory at a grand slam tournament. Many players let nerves get the best of them when making their first run late into a major weekend, but there is no worry of that happening to Schiavone.  She may even be fortunate enough to have a young player wilt under the pressure against her.

3. Her Draw

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    Schiavone should also be encouraged by the fact that she's in one of the better sections of the draw. Aside from Sharapova and Kim Clijsters, the top contenders heading into this tournament were young stars like Victoria Azarenka, Caroline Wozniacki and Andrea Petkovic. None of those players are in her section, as it has more of a veteran feel to it.

    The other two top ten players in her section are Vera Zvonareva and Jelena Jankovic. Jankovic is a couple years removed now from her best stretch of tennis. Zvonareva reached two grand slam finals last year but clay is far from her best surface and was nearly upset in the last round.

    Schiavone should have a good scouting report on just about every player that she will play from here on out. Tennis is a game of matchups and knowing your opponent's strenghts and weaknesses can provide the difference between winning or losing.

4. Her Heart

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    In last year's surprising run to the title, Schiavone showed great perseverance. Her friends and family were spotted in her section wearing t-shirts that said "Nothing is impossible." That motto may not be sported in this year's run, but the heart behind it will for the 2010 champion.

    Schiavone is one of the tour's hardest fighters, and her inner strength is nearly unmatched. At this year's 2011 Australian Open, she played the longest match in women's history in defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova. It took a lot out of her, but that didn't stop her from giving all she had two days later against No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki.

    She nearly pulled off one of the most amazing wins in tennis history given her condition, but came up just short. ESPN analyst Pam Shriver nearly choked up during each match, showing just how incredible the spirit is of the Italian champion.

5. Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki Are Not Around

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    The winners of the last three grand slams since Schiavone won the French last year and the worlds number one are not going to be a factor for the rest of this tournament. That would be Serena Williams (Wimbledon), Kim Clijsters (U.S. and Australian Opens) and Caroline Wozniacki.

    Williams, one of the greatest players of all time and a dominant force in today's game when she is healthy, has not played since winning Wimbledon due to injuries.

    Clijsters was upset by Arantxa Rus yesterday in the second round. She hadn't played in a few months, battling injuries herself, and it was her first French Open appearance in five years.

    Wozniacki was upset by the talented Daniela Hantuchova in the third-round, as she never quite got her footing under her.

    While the three have combined for just one French Open championship in their illustrious careers, they are clearly the most all around-players in the game today, and their absence is very good for Schiavone and the rest of the field.

    Williams is a player who can hit her opponents off the court, while Clijsters and Wozniacki can force their opponents out of their comfort zones with their amazing defense and court coverage.

6. There Is No Dominant-Clay Court Woman Player in Today's Game

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    When you look at the men's game, you see a clear-cut dominant player on clay courts. Rafael Nadal has won five of the last six French Open championships, and has been rightly called "the king of clay."

    The women's game is the exact opposite, however, with three different women taking the title the last three years. Justine Henin had won four of the previous five before that, but she has since retired from the game twice since then.

    Schiavone's favorite surface is clay, and with her win last year at Roland Garros, she has to be considered one of the best clay-court players going today.

    None of the other top players in the game today can claim that their favorite surface is clay, as shown by the fact that Schiavone was the only top ten seed to enter this tournament with a French Open title to her credit. She has struggled a bit this season on clay, but has looked good so far in Roland Garros.

7. The Magic Appears to Be Back

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    Through the first three rounds of the tournament, Schiavone only lost a combined nine games, albeit helped out by a retirement by her third round opponent. That's still quite an accomplishment for a player who really limped into the 2011 French Open, as her results since her amazing Australian Open have been subpar.

    Her first round opponent, young American Melanie Oudin, was very impressed with Italian veteran, saying she "pretty much doesn't have a weakness on clay." I'm sure that's pretty much what any of her opponents would have said after losing to her in 2010. Roland Garros clearly brings out the best in Schiavone, and that gives her as good a chance as anyone to take the title.

8. The Late-Bloomer Takes Advantage of Her Opportunities

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    The career of Francesca Schiavone will show that she has been one of tennis' late bloomers, something not uncommon to the sport. She had never even reached a grand slam semi-final before last year's French Open run, let alone winning a major. All four of her titles on the tour have come since 2007 as well, losing her first eight career finals before that point.

    The Italian was always a pretty consistent player heading into last year, but never had the big breakthrough. Now that she's had it, more players will take notice of her and gun for her, but that won't derail the strong-minded veteran. It will only bring her game to greater hights, as she showed in the late rounds of the 2010 French Open. She knows just how infrequently opportunities for a grand slam victory come along and has the mindset to pounce on any and all of them.

9. Her Cleverness and Clay Court Savvy

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    Surely, Schiavone's run to the title last season can be credited a lot to her fighting spirit and an unwillingness to give up. But it can also be credited with how she used her mind, especially in the finals against Sam Stosur.

    A lot of players are able to win matches and titles based on talent (for example Roger Federer). However, most players need to be incredible students of the game in order to have sucess, and Schiavone is one of them.

    Stosur was the favorite in last year's final as she had really transformed into the best clay court player at the time. However, the Italian clearly outsmarted the Australian in the straight-set victory. Schiavone had all the answers to what Stosur was offering, countering perfectly.

    Schiavone has a classic clay court game, using all different types of shots to make it hard on her opponents. She is also a player that can go to a couple of different game plans if she is struggling or if her opponent is giving her something that she didn't expect heading into the match.

10. Other Contenders Have Not Shown Best Form

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    While Schiavone has coasted so far, some of the other top players have not looked nearly as good, or have been knocked out all together.

    No.7 seed Maria Sharapova, who won the tune-up event in Rome last week convincingly, was down and out in the second-round before coming back to survive the scare.

    No. 3 Vera Zvonerava's opponent served for the match against her in the third set before she came back to win in the second round.

    Two other top ten seeds in the afore-mentioned Caroline Wozniacki as well as 2010 runner-up Sam Stosur have already been knocked out of the tournament.

    The tough conditions have been a factor so far in the 2011 French Open, and that can certainly be an equilizer, but Schiavone has shown some of the best form in this tournament, along with No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka. That doesn't mean the likes of Sharapova and Wozniacki won't get get stronger as the tournament goes on, but right now it gives the Italian an edge.