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Amazing Nadal, surprising Schiavone shine in City of Light

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Order was somewhat restored with Rafael Nadal titling in Paris, but the women's edition of the 2010 French Open failed to make a whole lot of sense, considering Francesca Schiavone somehow won it all on the crushed red brick at Roland Garros.

The 24-year-old Nadal reclaimed his thrown as he rolled to a fifth French Open title in six years. He exacted some revenge on Robin Soderling in this year's men's final, as the strapping Spaniard easily straight-setted the Swede who shocked him in the fourth round at RG a year ago, when Nadal was battling two very sore knees.

The demonstrative Schiavone, on the other hand, came out of nowhere to become the first-ever Italian woman in the 126-year history of Grand Slam tennis to not only reach, but win a major title, which she did by ousting Aussie Samantha Stosur in straight sets in the championship match.

Rafael Nadal is the first man in the Open Era to corral five French Open titles in a six-year span.
Stosur charged into her first-ever Grand Slam final with a sequence of victories over former world No. 1 and four-time French Open champ Justine Henin, in the fourth round, reigning world No. 1 and former titlist Serena Williams, in the quarterfinals, and another former top-ranked star Jelena Jankovic, in the semis.

So it would only stand to reason that Stosur would cruise past Schiavone in the final, right?

Wrong!

Back over on the men's side, everyone was anticipating a fourth French Open final between Nadal and the reigning No. 1, at the time, Federer, but Federer failed in his attempt to reach a fifth straight Roland Garros finale, as Soderling stunned the 2009 champion in the quarterfinals last week. Soderling's second shocker here in two years prevented Federer from extending his incredible Grand Slam semifinal appearance streak to 24. The amazing Swiss had reached a record 23 straight major semis before falling to the big-hitting Soderling. He hadn't failed to reach a major semi since the 2004 French Open, which was a third-round exit against three-time Roland Garros titlist Gustavo Kuerten that year.

Francesca Schiavone became the first-ever Italian woman to both reach and win a Grand Slam final.
Don't feel too bad for Roger, though, he's still the men's all-time Grand Slam king, with 16 majors, and the reigning Aussie Open and Wimbledon champ.

The ultra-fit Nadal, meanwhile, continues to serve as a human backboard, returning just about everything that lands on his side of the net. He simply imposes his will, bludgeoning you (well, not you) all the while with one powerful groundstroke after another.

There's really no secret to his success. Rafa's just gonna outwork ya and outhit ya, especially on the dirt.

With his latest exploits, Nadal is now a seven-time major champion, not to mention an Olympic gold medalist, and only the second man in the Open Era (since 1968) to corral five French Open titles. The legendary Bjorn Borg is still the leader with six championships at Roland Garros...but Rafa's now knockin' on the door.

Nadal, who is the first man to win five French Opens in a six-year span, had to overcome quite a bit over the last year in order to return to the top. His '09 season was basically derailed by knee and abdominal injuries. Not only was he shocked by Soderling at the French last year, he was forced to pull out of Wimbledon and unable to defend his title there, which he earned in 2008 by outlasting Federer in the final in what many people consider to be the greatest tennis match of all-time.

Robin Soderling is now a two-time French Open runner-up.
Nadal headed to Paris having won a trio of ATP Masters titles, all on his beloved red clay, and the first of those titles, which came in Monte Carlo, marked his first title of any kind in 11 long months while still on the mend from the knee and abdominal issues.

On Monday, Rafa supplanted Federer atop the men's rankings for a second time. He first replaced Federer at the top in 2008.

Nadal and Federer squared off in three straight French Open finals, from 2006-08, with the Spaniard winning on all three occasions. When Nadal was knocked out by Soderling last year, it opened the door for Federer to capture his first French championship and become only the sixth man in history to secure the career Grand Slam, or all four major titles, which he did when he handled Soderling in the finale.

Unfortunately, a Federer-Nadal rematch just wasn't in the offing this time around.

Note: Nadal won all 21 of his sets en route to his latest title at RG and 40th career title overall.

Samantha Stosur landed in her first-ever major final last week.
Back over on the women's side, all hell was breaking loose.

Most were anticipating a mouth-watering Serena-Henin quarterfinal in Paris, but the rising Stosur made sure that didn't happen. The big-serving Aussie, once regarded as just a doubles specialist, stunningly knocked out both future Hall-of-Famers in back-to-back outings.

Henin was playing in her first French Open in three years. She "retired" from tennis just two weeks before Roland Garros 2008 commenced, as she was the reigning world No. 1 and reigning French Open champ at the time.

The sweet-swingin' Belgian star returned to the WTA Tour back in January, and wound up losing to her arch-rival Serena in the Aussie Open final.

Serena and Henin weren't the only disappointments in Paris, as world No. 2 Wimbledon runner-up Venus Williams failed to get past the fourth round (Nadia Petrova) and two-time major finalist Elena Dementieva gave way to the diminutive Schiavone, and a most-untimely injury, in the final four.

Dementieva, considered to be the best player on the women's tour without a major title, dropped the first set in her semifinal against Schiavone and then had to quit due to a crippling left calf injury, as she left Court Chatrier in tears last week. It seemed like a golden opportunity for Dementieva to break through for her first-ever Grand Slam title...but no one told her left calf.

Roger Federer failed to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time in six years.
Dementieva and Jankovic are the two best players without a major title among the ladies, and Jankovic also lost out on a great chance last week when she was manhandled (or is it womanhandled?) by the ever-improving Stosur in the semis.

That could have been a very interesting final between the former U.S. Open runner-up Jankovic and the former U.S. Open and French Open finalist Dementieva...but Schiavone and Stosur ignored the script.

The uber-surprising Schiavone, who will turn 30 on June 23, is now all the way up to No. 6 on the planet thanks to her improbable, if not impossible, run in Paris, where she won as a 17th seed. The only other time a woman captured the French Open seeded lower than 10th was back in 1933. That's only 77 years ago!

At 29, Schiavone became the oldest woman to capture her first Grand Slam title in 41 years and she's now the oldest woman in 12 years to crack the top 10 for the first time in her career.

So how did the Milan native win seven straight matches in Paris?

Justine Henin is a four-time French Open champ who couldn't get past Samantha Stosur in Paris.
I'm really not sure.

She doesn't have any real weapons, other than grit and speed, but she does get players off their game with a slower pace, wicked slice and a ton of spin. If she's going to succeed anywhere, it would have to be on the slow red clay.

Will Schiavone be a one-Slam wonder, like an Iva Majoli?

Probably.

In a few weeks, she'll try to become the first woman in eight years to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back.

Note: Schiavone lost in her first eight WTA Tour finals, from 2000-06, before finally claiming a championship in Austria in 2007. The French Open marks only her fourth title since joining the circuit 12 years ago.

As far as last year's women's finalists were concerned, 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova was ousted by fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko in the third round, while '09 runner-up and former world No. 1 Dinara Safina was shown the door in Paris in the first round by 39-year-old Japanese Kimiko Date Krumm.

That's rough.

Serena Williams lost to Samantha Stosur at Roland Garros, but still holds the Aussie Open and Wimbledon titles.
If you're looking for disappointments on the men's side, I guess you don't have to look any further than Federer. How else can you describe it other than "disappointing," when the world No. 1 and reigning champ exits a tournament in the round of eight?

Novak Djokovic also disappointed when he blew a two-sets-to-none lead against Austrian veteran Jurgen Melzer in the quarters, as the surprising Melzer landed in his first-ever major semi, only to lose to his fellow lefthander Nadal.

Some other underachieving men were No. 4 Aussie Open runner-up Andy Murray and 2009 Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick. Murray succumbed to big-hitting Czech Tomas Berdych in the round of 16, while Roddick gave way to unheralded Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili in the third round. Roddick had his best-ever showing in Paris a year ago when he landed in the fourth round. Berdych, like Melzer last week, became a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist.

In addition to Melzer and Berdych, Russian Mikhail Youzhny and Spaniard Nicolas Almagro enjoyed great stays in Paris by reaching the quarters.

The biggest surprise in the women's draw, outside of Schiavone, was unseeded 22-year-old Kazakhstanian Yaroslava Shvedova, who soared all the way into the quarters before losing to Jankovic.

The '10 Grand Slam season will resume in two weeks on the famed grass at Wimbledon, where the defending champions are Federer and Serena. Maybe Federer and Nadal will resume their classic rivalry at the All England Club. And maybe Serena and Henin will do the same.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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