There were 16 women aged 30 or above who started in the women’s singles event at Wimbledon this year, but few of them possess the same ability or credentials as Francesca Schiavone. A French Open champion in 2010 and a finalist there in 2011, the Italian is the first player from her country to achieve a top-five ranking. Her 48 consecutive Grand Slam appearances are also the most of any other player on tour and as she demonstrated in a 6-0, 6-3 win over Klara Zakopalova, that experience matters.
“Wow,” the Italian smiled when told of her milestone major tally. “That's the age. I mean, I am 32. [It’s] normal that I have so many possibilities to play four Grand Slams every year.”
Performing in them so convincingly, however, is a completely different story – and after the scare of dropping the opening set against local star Laura Robson in the second round, Schiavone was determined to make a stronger start this time around.
Taking just 22 minutes to claim the first set, the aggressive Schiavone capitalised superbly on some shaky serving from her opponent, who opened the match with a double fault then amassed three more, while winning only 48 per cent points from her first serve. While a break point in the fourth game hinted that Zakopalova could be more damaging on return, her opportunities were almost always followed by unforced errors, the Czech amassing a costly 20 by the end of the match.
Schiavone was pushed harder as a more accurate Zakopalova finally notched up some games on serve in the second set, but after surrendering her fourth service break in the seventh game, the Czech spent the change of ends huddled beneath her towel. Her despondency was well founded; two games later, Schiavone had progressed beyond Wimbledon’s fourth round for only the second time in 13 appearances.
“I think it was a fantastic performance for me, particularly the first set and then at the end of the second,'' an elated Schiavone said afterwards. “I'm happy to be here now and to keep going.''
A Wimbledon quarter-finalist in 2009, Schiavone now hopes to achieve similar dominance over Kvitova, who in contrast to the veteran Italian became the first player born in the 1990s to claim a Grand Slam title at Wimbledon last year.
With a 1-2 match record against the Czech, Schiavone appreciates the challenges that their next match will present. “She's the champion, so everybody wants to beat her,” she said. “I think it would be a really, really tough match. She has the character to play on grass, so I think I have to play really a great match to beat her.''
Always a player who competes with high emotion, the magnitude of competing in the second week of Wimbledon could be another decisive factor. “Wimbledon is special. Of course is not like another tournament. Born here, the tennis. It's much, much bigger than what we think,” Schiavone said.
“So for me is an honour to be here every year, have a possibility to play here, to enjoy the grass, because you don't find another grass like here.”
Nor do you find opponents who can compete with such ferocity as Schiavone. It’s more than 20 years since a player aged 30 or above claimed a Grand Slam, with Martina Navratilova being the last to fit in that category at 1990 Wimbledon.
Schiavone, however, is not your typical 30-something and as she continues to build her quantity of Grand Slam matches, she’s also adding to the quality.