|Schiavone said she prepared by facing serves from male players in Italy [GALLO/GETTY]|
It took 12 years of hard graft to finally realise her dream but Francesca Schiavone said the long wait made her French Open title taste even sweeter.
The Milanese, who turns 30 later this month, became theoldest first-time grand slam winner since 1969 when she beat Australia’s Samantha Stosur 6-4 7-6 on Saturday.
Not only that but she propelled herself into her country’s sporting folklore by becoming the first Italian woman to land a grand slam title. Adriano Panatta was the last Italian to win a major, triumphing here in the men’s singles in 1976.
No wonder Schiavone, who turned professional in 1998, planted kisses on the Parisian claycourt at the end before celebrating wildly with 50 or so friends and family who cheered her every winner from the sunlit stands.
“To kiss the ground for me is to thank this clay, this beautiful tournament and this arena,” said the 17th seed.
A few hours later in a tiny room tucked under the stands of Court Chatrier, she expressed what it meant to finally be rewarded with a grand slam title at the 39th attempt.
‘Live and feel’
“I think when you are 27, 28, 29 you can be much more conscious of what you are feeling,” Schiavone said.
“You can really live and feel what’s going on. You know where your power is.
“It’s like when you kiss someone for the first time when you’re a kid. When you do it years later it feels much better.”
Schiavone, who will rise to sixth in the world rankings, the first time she has been in the top 10, used all her experience to employ the perfect game plan against seventh seed Stosur.
The Australian had beaten quadruple French Open champion Justine Henin and world number one Serena Williams en route to the final, using her powerful, topspin serve to devastating effect on the bouncy claycourt.
Schiavone set out to be brave, taking the ball early and often attacking the net, and it worked a treat. Crucially she broke the Stosur serve once in each set.
“I practice at home with men hitting it 200kph so I thought if I can do it with them I can do it with Sam,” she said.
“I enjoyed the match a lot and was really focused on my tactics. It just came step by step.
“I realised my world. Inside, I really always dreamed about this tournament. Every morning that you wake up, you work to do something like this.”