Monday, December 27, 2010

“Schiavo Nothing Impossible”

It is time for reflection. The 2010 tennis year is coming to a close. Already we are gearing up for the start of the 2011 tennis season. But I can’t move forward without first looking back. And having gone silent for some weeks back there, there is much that I neglected to comment on at the time. So here’s my chance to reflect, to look back on some of my favorite moments in tennis, to give my own belated perspective.

The first match I want to reflect on is the tremendous win by Francesca Schiavone at the 2010 French Open. I’ve taken to calling Schiavone ‘the Italian queen’. There’s something regal about her. Not the cold, stiff upper-lip, distant and unapproachable kind of royalty that we think of traditionally, but a more human, passionate, heart-on-her-sleeve kind of majesty that we all hope Kate Middleton will come to represent. (How’s that for a tie-in, lol).

Schiavone won her first Slam at Roland Garros 18 days before her 30th birthday. This was her third ever tournament win. Prior to this she won in Moscow three years ago, and fittingly in Barcelona earlier this year. But regardless of what happens from here on in, winning Roland Garros will remain the pinnacle of her career. At a lot of levels it was a most significant achievement.

It was significant because she has been a pro tennis player for some ten years. She could very easily have closed out her career as the female version of Potito Starace, a decent enough player with no career titles behind his name. Instead, she is the Italian queen. And when she lustily started singing the words of her national anthem during the presentation ceremony, you knew that we were looking at a player who understood the larger national significance of her win.

This win was also significant because of her age. For a moment there it started looking as if tennis was becoming a young person’s game to which old farts need not apply. When Jennifer Capriati became the youngest player to go pro, that moment hall-marked the start of a new trend in tennis, one in which older players found themselves increasingly ignored, eclipsed by the arrival of your Laura Robsons and your Donald Youngs. Even the ATP seemed to endorse this trend some years ago with its offensively titled “New Balls Please” campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for welcoming the young ones, but this need not be at the expense of experienced players determined to still offer their best. Some people are simply late bloomers. They offer their best as they age. They peak when others begin to decline. Schiavone peaked in August 2010. Good for her. Her win was great encouragement to the Kimiko Dates of this tennis world, other seasoned players who think that they still have something to say with their rackets.

The title of this article was taken from the words written in white capital letters on the black t-shirts worn by a group of Schiavone’s supporters at Roland Garros. Their numbers did not even approximate that of a typical J-Block showing at the US Open. But what they lacked in numbers they more than made up for in belief and passion.

At the time I was struck by the use of the double negatives. Nothing Impossible. In the English language, two negatives produce a positive. So in essence the message of the t-shirts was that anything was possible. (Let’s be honest, if Schiavo were American, her people probably would not be caught dead wearing a t-shirt featuring any kind of negative language – we just don’t roll that way.)

Kudos to Schiavone for her gutsy performance. Despite Samantha Stosur’s very hard work, despite her frankly labored performance, she turned out to have no answers in the second set tie-break. And Stosur had worked much harder to get to the finals. She beat Justine Henin, Serena Williams, and Jelena Jankovic to get there. Unfortunately for her, she faced an opponent who believed deeply that nothing was impossible.

PARIS - JUNE 05: Francesca Schiavone of Italy celebrates with the trophy after winning the women's singles final match between Francesca Schiavone of Italy and Samantha Stosur of Australia on day fourteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 5, 2010 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

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