The scoreboard says 11-10 in the third set, Francesca Schiavone to serve for the match. The timer reads more than four hours—only minutes away from the longest women’s singles match in a Grand Slam. But she is looking sick. She has her hand on her heart, trying to control her breathing rate. And at 29, after playing more than four hours of physically draining match, you cannot blame her. She calls for the trainer and takes a medical timeout—that when she was serving for the match.
After her three minutes, Svetlana Kuznetsova called for her trainer too and treat her foot. She had already called for a trainer at the end of the second set, to work on her blisters—she had played the entire third set suffering from blisters.
Before this moment, Schiavone had already saved six match points, and squandered three break point opportunities at 0-40—one of them by tipping over the net while successfully reaching to a Kuznetsova volley! The drama had already reached its unexpected proportions.
And yet, Kuznetsova, the mental widget stroke two courageous forehand winners to keep the match alive at 11-11. And astonishingly, they continue to hold for six more games as the match gets to 4:21 hrs making it the longest match in women’s history. And unlike the men’s longest match—the famous Isner-Mahut saga—it was not a serving contest. They could not serve big, in fact, their serves were in the 120s and 130s by then. It was an excellent display of all court tennis.
They approached the net a total of 126 times out of 358 points played—more than once every three points. And each of those net approaches were constructed brilliantly by heavy hitting from the baseline, and using intelligent approach shots. Kuznetsova was hitting her forehand better than I have seen, and Schiavone’s defense was unparalleled. It was commendable how she was handling the heavy Kuznetsova forehand with her one handed backhand, and returning it back with interest. When she was made to run around the court, she used her supremely cupped slice backhand—one of the best in women’s game, probably better than even Justine Henin—to get back in the rally, or even gain the upper hand by creating ridiculous angles which left a scrambling Sveta reaching for the ball.
At 14-14 with a break point, Schiavone had to reach away two great volleys from Sveta to earn the break, twisting her calf muscle in the process. A trainer was again called to rub her muscles and two minutes later, she was back hustling around the court, and watched to her dismay as Sveta saved two match points of her own. Schiavone finally hit a service winner out wide to earn her third match point, and ended the next point at the net to achieve a well deserved victory.
Four Four Four. Read the timer—at four hours and forty four minutes, Schiavone finally got her reward—tired legs, fatigue and a quarter final clash with the world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
Women’s tennis has come under a lot of criticism, with the absence of Serena Williams, injured Justine Henin, a slamless No. 1, and one dimensional baseline bashers. This match was anything but that. I hate to use superlatives, especially right after an emotional match, but I have to say this was the greatest women’s match I have ever seen. But it was played between a 30 year old and a 26 year old. We have yet to see such variety from the women in their teens of early twenties.