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Tampa's Stosur to meet Schiavone in French Open final

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 03:36 AM
PARIS -

Samantha Stosur vs. Francesca Schiavone sounds a little like a first-round pairing, and a year ago at the French Open, it was.

Stosur, an Australian who lives in Harbour Island, won that matchup between two veteran players who had never made a splash in a Grand Slam tournament. On Saturday they'll meet again, this time in an improbable final.

It's hard to say whose run to the last round has been more surprising. Stosur has beaten former No. 1 Justine Henin, current No. 1 Serena Williams and former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in her past three matches. Schiavone eliminated four consecutive seeded players, including two in the top five.

In their homelands, their success is big news. Schiavone, 29, is the first Italian woman to reach a Grand Slam final. Stosur, 26, is first Australian woman to do so in 30 years.

It's causing a lot more buzz than when they met in the first round.

"I don't actually remember that much about that match," Stosur said.

When Schiavone was asked if she could have imagined her current success back then, she replied: "A year ago? No. I had to change a lot of things. ... I had big problems. So I had to turn this problem into hurdles to overcome."

In her 39th career Grand Slam, Schiavone has cleared every hurdle so far. She had never previously advanced beyond the quarterfinals in a major event.

The lineup for the men's semifinals Friday included some surprises, too. Journeyman Jurgen Melzer, who never advanced beyond the third round in his previous 31 major tournaments, was to play four-time champion Rafael Nadal. Another first-time Grand Slam semifinalist, Tomas Berdych, was to face last year's runner-up, Robin Soderling.

Regarding the women's finalists, Schiavone has provided the better photo op, thanks to her new celebratory ritual of kissing the clay. But Stosur has made the bigger headlines, outlasting four-time French Open champion Henin in three sets and overcoming a match point to beat Williams.

Against Jankovic, Stosur dominated from the start Thursday and swept the final six games to win, 6-1, 6-2.

"I probably couldn't have asked to play a much better match today in the semifinals," Stosur said. "So to do that today and now be in my first final is just incredible."

Schiavone's semifinal was slightly longer but ended abruptly. She took a seat for the changeover after winning the first set 7-6 (3) against Elena Dementieva, then looked up to see the Russian approaching.

"When I saw her, I thought, `Do you need something?'" Schiavone said.

Dementieva extended her hand as a concession, and retired citing a left calf injury.

With that, Schiavone was into the final. She fell to her knees, kissed the court and rose with clay on her smiling face.

When Stosur completed her victory 90 minutes later, she waved to the crowd and belted a ball into the stands but otherwise behaved as though she won Grand Slam semifinals all the time.

That's not the case. She made her first major semifinal at Roland Garros a year ago and has since continued to climb in the rankings. She'll rise to a career-best No. 6 next week.

After starting her career 39-37 on clay, Stosur is 28-8 since 2008. This year she's 20-2 on the surface, best on the women's tour.

The Australian plays a power game. Her serve can top 120 mph, and as an alternative she hits a high-bouncing kick serve - a rarity on the women's tour. That sets up her aggressive forehand that has heavy topspin.

"She's a strong girl," Jankovic said. "To be honest, she kind of has like almost the game of a man. That's what it feels like. She has a very good kick, which not many women have. It's a very heavy spin."

Schiavone doesn't fit the mold of today's touring pros, either. She's only 5-5 1/2 and relies on her speed to counterpunch, mixing the pace and using lots of spin to keep opponents off balance.

She came to Paris with a career record of 7-40 against top-five players. This week she's 2-0, with wins over Dementieva and No. 3-seeded Caroline Wozniacki.

Schiavone is 15-3 on clay this year, including her third career title at Barcelona in April. On Monday, two weeks shy of her 30th birthday, she'll crack the top 10 in the rankings for the first time. She'll be the oldest woman to do so in 12 years.

"It's moving. It's a thrill," Schiavone said. "Maybe after X days, I'll be able to tell you more. For now, all I can tell you is I'm happy."

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