MADRID, Spain - Francesca Schiavone has announced that 2017 will be her final season, putting a cap on a 19-year-career that has seen it all. The former World No.4 became the first Italian woman to win a major when she stunned Samantha Stosur in the 2010 Roland Garros final and remains the only Italian woman to make two major finals after following up that 2010 triumph with a repeat run to the Roland Garros final in 2011.
But the last two and a half years have been tough ones on the court for the 36-year-old Milan native. She struggled to stay inside the Top 100 and just two weeks ago she fell to No.168, her lowest ranking in over 17 years.
Schiavone's reaction? Just win, baby. And she's done it with the class and fire that has been the hallmark of her inspired career.
As a wildcard at the Copa Colsanitas in Bogota, Colombia, she did not lose a set en route to her eighth career title. To do it, she knocked out three of the top four seeds, including top seed Kiki Bertens.
She continued that win streak last week at the Grand Prix De SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Rabat, Morrocco, again making good on a wildcard to make the final before losing to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. It was a beautiful two weeks on the beloved clay that has brought her the greatest moments of her legendary career and she's now back inside the Top 80.
WTA Insider caught up with Schiavone this week at the Mutua Madrid Open.
WTA Insider: You've had a fantastic two weeks, winning the title in Bogota and then making the final in Rabat. What does it all mean to you?
Schiavone: It's fantastic for me. It means no matter where you come from, no matter which number you are, no matter which position of your life or the age, you can do it. That's the best things that I felt in the last month. And then also, work pays off always.
WTA Insider: When I think of your career, the slogan 'impossible is nothing' comes to mind. When you think about your legacy will be do you think about that? Do you think your career proves that?
Schiavone: Yeah, I think so. Sometimes some girls tell me this fact. I'm happy.
And then the life keeps going. I feel that tennis is going fast, very fast. You are here, then you are not. You are a legend, and then you are not anymore. You are great, and then you lose two matches and...wow.
I think the best I can do is to enjoy. To appreciate every step. Every moment that I live on the court. Every moment that I love this sport. I keep in my heart everything.
WTA Insider: You've always said tennis is a beautiful sport. The way you play it, you play it as a beautiful sport. But it can also be a cruel sport. It is full of heartbreak. How do you reconcile that?
Schiavone: The tough moments are with yourself. Then you have to put yourself in the world. There is a connection, always. Before, you have to be good to yourself and then you can go into the world.
I passed some really tough moments. I couldn't win one match. Not even when flipping a coin or playing cards with my mom [laughs]. When you lose, you lose.
Then I started to find the balance with myself, balance in my life. New motivation, new dreams. Then when you start to appreciate and enjoy again your tennis, that is the moment that you can make this connection and go back to the world, and say, 'Hey, now I play again. Come here. I beat you.'
WTA Insider: Are there times you thought the last couple of years that you were disappointed, or angry? That your relationship with the sport was...
WTA Insider: Sure, Done.
Schiavone: Done in this part. Done on the court.
WTA Insider: How did you feel about that?
Schiavone: Great. Doesn't matter, because I was in love. I played a fantastic [career]. When I looked at where I come from, I say wow.
At the same time, when you lose there is frustration inside you. You question yourself. What is going on? Why is it happening? Which way do you want to start to take? Which job? New motivations, new dreams. At the end of that year, I was supposed to stop. In 2016 I was starting to think to do other stuff.
Then someone took me and spoke with me and said you can do it. Doesn't matter what, you can do it. Sometimes love, sometimes words are coming from the heart.
WTA Insider: Roberta Vinci said she was going to stop a couple of years ago but she's still playing.
Schiavone: Roberta is younger [laughs]. This back is not young.
WTA Insider: So what is the mentality for this season?
Schiavone: The mentality is to grow. You may not believe it, but it is to grow. To grow is to mean, today I do this, tomorrow I want to do this, the day after another step. Just one step, step by step. But you say, yeah but you are 36 or 37. But it's never finished.
It's great because I can feel on the court that I'm learning many things. Don't get angry, don't do nonsense, enjoy more than what you say with the words. Feel it. Take decisions. Say no when it's no, don't say yes when it's no. It's life, not just for me. For everybody.
WTA Insider: 36 is not old.
Schiavone: No! Can you say to everybody to shut up and don't break my b***s because I have two b***s like this, full of s**t. 'But you are 36.' I mean, you are 50! I want to go to the Everest and do the Everest. What is your problem?
They expect that it's finishing because of the age. I saw athletes playing through 40 or 42 years old and win gold medals. Roger [Federer] is 36 and nobody keeps saying 'Oh, he's 36 or Serena [Williams] is 36 or Venus [Williams] is 37 [they should stop]' because they are top players.
If I want to play and I am 100 in the world, what's your problem? Do you want to enjoy? Come to watch me. If you don't want to enjoy, go watch the 20-year-old.
WTA Insider: When you envision the next few months, what do you want? On your terms. Schiavone: I want to live free. I want to love. I want to stay with my family. I want to work and feel that everything is going great, doesn't matter the results.
Follow Schiavone's final season on her YouTube channel, SchiavoChannel as well on her Instagram and Twitter.