Francesca Schiavone overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to conquer Roland Garros in 2010. The start of her retirement saw her face further adversity, first in the form of a cancer battle and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic that tore through her home city of Milan.
Through all of those trials, the 40-year-old emerged on the other side, and it was time to celebrate.
“The first time that I thought about ten years was about a week ago when someone reminded me that this big anniversary was coming,” she said over the phone, hours before hosting a party that doubled as a grand opening for Sifà, her new bistro. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s true.’ That’s when I first started feeling some emotions about it.
“Then some days ago, I gave an interview with someone I’ve known a long time, and she asked about the emotions from that day, if my body and mind could remember those feelings. I could feel really big emotions and it was at that moment when I decided to throw a party.”
Schiavone was days away from her 30th birthday when she turned the terre battue into an affair to remember, reaching her first Grand Slam final and shocking Samantha Stosur with her signature mix of audacious shotmaking and fighting spirit. Her friends and family led the cheers on Court Philippe-Chatrier, wearing t-shirts that declared "Nothing is Impossible."
“I haven’t seen the final so many times,” she admits in her inimitable way, speaking with a syncopated softness. “While we were in quarantine, my friends called to tell me that on television, they were airing marathons of Flavia Pennetta’s matches, of Fabio Fognini’s matches, another two days for Roger Federer, and two days for me, Francesca. I was getting so many messages from my friends when my quarterfinal or my final matches were playing. I don’t watch a lot of my tennis, but sometimes.”
The finer details, like the second set tie-break that featured joyful forays to net and forehands hit in full flight, don’t occupy Schiavone’s memory quite like the emotion of the moment. It seems that the act of reminiscing, much like her tennis, is something to which the former champion commits with her entire being.
“I remember the moment before I came onto the court to play the final. I remember kissing the clay. When I finished the match, I remember running up to hug my team. I have memories. It’s not easy to cancel these kinds of things. I have beautiful memories, really, and whenever I’m relaxing, many feelings come to my body and mind.”
Body and mind were often one in defeating many opponents in her illustrious career in which she reached the quarterfinals or better of all four major tournaments, earned a Top 4 ranking, and returned to the Roland Garros final for a second straight year in 2011. The start of her retirement seemed equally promising as she coached Caroline Wozniacki to the championship match at the Volvo Car Open in 2019, only for health to take rightly precedent as she battled even bigger challenges over the last 18 months.
“I was supposed to do something different, but then I got sick and that year was very difficult. In that moment, I had some projects I had to totally change. I couldn’t fly, go anywhere to see people. It changed everything. Once I started feeling better, COVID happened. Every project went in a different way.”
As the pandemic began to abate in Milan, a new dream appeared possible, and Sifà was born.
“I decided to do this with my partner. I asked her if she could handle this if there was a moment where I couldn’t, and she said yes, so we did it together. I’ve been cleaning the floor and the glass for tomorrow. I’m very happy. It doesn’t matter when I’m doing; I’m very happy to be here and doing something for myself.
“Life keeps going. I’m healthy now. I look healthy. I can’t control the future because it’s something that attacks you and you don’t know. What happened, happened. For now, I’m fantastic.”
Schiavone’s anniversary, which she initially envisioned occurring in Paris with a run through Legends Doubles, ultimately coincided with a soft launch for Sifà, which remains subject to social distancing, but allowed her to invite close friends to remember the past and toast to the future.
“There won’t be other players there. Flavia is busy with her two kids. I also haven’t told many people about this. My sister lives in Rome, and she doesn’t even know this is happening. I decided to do it so we can enjoy a little bit.
“We are starting very slow, intimate, and private. It’ll be very good quality in my bottega, good choice."
Though she doesn’t rule out a return to the coaching box, Schiavone wants what comes next to be a celebration of life, because life, as they say, is a celebration.
“We move so fast in life, and with what’s happened in mine, I know that I have to enjoy. After ten years since I won this, I think I deserve a moment with friends, to enjoy and to celebrate this moment. I’m very, very emotional, much more than what I thought.”