Roland Garros Final Preview

Francesca Schiavone's defense of her French Open title has come down to just one match, against Chinese trailblazer Li Na.

Published June 03, 2011 03:48

Roland Garros Final Preview
Francesca Schiavone, Li Na

Saturday, Final

[5] Francesca Schiavone (ITA #5) vs. [6] Li Na (CHN #7)
Head-to-Head: Tied at 2-2

Welcome to the sixth consecutive Grand Slam final between two players aged 25 or over. Schiavone (30 years, 346 days) and Li (29 years, 98 days) have a combined age of 60 years, 79 days, making this the oldest women's singles final at a major since Wimbledon in 1998 (when Novotna beat Tauziat). Put another way, it's the fifth oldest final in the Open Era and the second oldest at Roland Garros in that time, Evert and Navratilova's 1986 showdown still the benchmark for ladies of a certain age. Indeed, Schiavone is the second oldest Open Era finalist here after Evert, and should she defend the trophy she won so gloriously a year ago, she'll be the first thirtysomething to win a Grand Slam title since Navratilova won Wimbledon in 1990. 

But, as these two have demonstrated this fortnight by summarily dispatching younger rivals, age is just a number. On Thursday, Schiavone issued a clay court masterclass against Bartoli in the semis; the Frenchwoman put on a very respectable show for the home crowd, but the champion's natural affinity for clay made a critical difference in testy conditions. For her part, Li's form against Azarenka and Sharapova has been all the more astonishing given clay is supposedly the surface least favorable to her fast and flat style of play. The key for the 29-year-old will be to keep the error count low on her impressive groundstrokes, and pick up some cheapish points off serve.

In any case, fans find themselves with a perfect predicament: two hugely deserving potential champions with entertaining games, and a match that is impossible to call. Not only are these two at evens in their rivalry to date, they've also taken turns at winning; if the pattern continues, it should be Li's day, for she was beaten by Schiavone in the third round here 12 months ago. As she bids to become China's first Grand Slam singles champion it can can only help the Chinese star's cause that she gave Clijsters a real match in the final of the Australian Open, but Schiavone will defend her grip on the trophy like a lioness. Sure, there will be nerves, but the fact they've both been in this situation before should set the scene for a spectacle.

Schiavone says: "I think it is good, not just for tennis, but also for the younger players that are coming, to see such experienced players in the final. They can understand that the career is not just this moment or one, two, three years, but is long, so they have to control and to improve every day. To be in the career is not so short like before. So this is a good example, good input."

Li says: "It's another good experience for my whole career. I think I've proved a little bit for Chinese tennis - children will see my matches and think that maybe one day they can do the same, or even better. Of course I wish for tennis in China to get bigger and bigger. For me, I just need one more step and then my own dream will have come true."

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