From the print edition of l’Équipe June 24 2015 page 17, by Julien Giovanella
Francesca Schiavone, exuberant? On the court yes, but not in the players restaurant underneath Philippe Chatrier where she joins us for an interview. “We’ll speak quietly, there are people around,” says the player who will be thirty-five on 23 June, before she picks a lap of paper with a proper name, a number or a date randomly from an envelope. Five years ago in Paris she was the first Italian woman to win a Slam, and a year later she was a finalist. Now ranked 92 in the world and playing in her fifteenth Roland Garros. In a quiet voice.
This is my fifteenth Roland Garros (she’ll meet the Chinese Qiang Wang). I still remember the first in 2000. I lost in the first qualification round 7-5 in the third against a girl who was playing well at the time (actually 9-7 against the Polish Magdalena Grzybowska). I was young (not yet 20) and I wanted to start this nice fairy tail well … I knew I had to work and work some more, but I already felt at home. I didn’t ask myself “will I succeed or not?” I just played, full stop. And I loved it. When I saw this stadium for the first time (in 1997 as a junior) I felt the history of tennis. I remember one day going right to the top of Philippe Chatrier. Steffi Graf and Monica Seles were playing (semis, 1999). I was entranced. I got out my Kodak (smiles). I still have photos of the match at home.
It’s the only time you share your work and your passion with others. I was told from the start: “You’re important to us.” That gave me so much energy. … There was always joy, even when we lost. There was respect between us and that gave me an incredible strength to play above myself (she won the contest in 2006, 2009 and 2012 but hasn’t played since 2012).
What makes me keep playing? I have a new challenge. For a moment, I wasn’t at peace with myself any more. I had some personal difficulties which I’m overcoming, and I want to rediscover myself at thirty-five (birthday on June 23). I want the serenity I had at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen. It’s introspection to rediscover my balance and pleasure.
June 5 2010, on Philippe Chatrier, what a huge win. I gave myself a gift. It feels good to think about it. What I remember best is the second set tie-break (6-4, 7-6) against Samantha Stosur). I felt all this energy inside me, my spirit and my body were one. My game, my mind, my tactics, my technique were responding perfectly …
Gabi Urpi? Why this lap? Because he works with the French Tennis Federation? (He coaches the French Fed Cup team) He was my coach I shared with Flavia Pennetta. He has a lot of experience, but he also has great humanity, two things not easily found on the tour. The collaboration was a very nice page in my live.
I see a picture with a lot of squares to put my wishes in. One might find: stay in tennis or stay at home and play “the mother”. There are other options too. If this new life were to start tomorrow, I wouldn’t be ready. I’m preparing. But I know myself and I might say from one day to the next: “I’m stopping, I don’t want to play tennis any more.” I hope not to do it, to take the time to make the right choice. I’m not thinking about it right now, I live in the moment.
4 H 44
That was so long (match won against Svetlana Kuznetsova at the 2011 Australian Open 6-4, 1-6, 16-14, the longest women’s match in Slam history). I’ve watched it sometimes since. (The whole match? we ask) No, I’m not crazy. Only the tough parts. The first time was on the same day with the physios, and that’s when I realised how long it was. On the court I was so concentrated that I didn’t think of either the length of the match or becoming 4 in the world if I won (her best ranking, achieved after the tournament). What I was experiencing was so much nicer than that … Leaving the court, my toes on each foot were bathed in blood. It took me 2½ hours to get them out. After 4 hours and 44 minutes of pleasure, I experienced hell! That I well remember (laughs)!
(During the first round of the latest Indian Wells in March, her opponent, the Chinese Lin Zhu, had the ball bounce on her side before going over the net. The umpire saw nothing, the player said nothing and took the point, which was the second set winner.) She saw that the ball bounced on her side. The umpire, no, which is unbelievable. He asked her, “what happened?” And she answered, “I don’t remember.” There, we have a problem. That’s a lack of respect for the sport and for life. I told her, “this is sport.” And since that day the phrase goes with me. It’s a whole philosophy of life other sports people, especially in cycling, defend, and which I hope to take with me when my career is over. Go and talk to her? What’s the point? Some of the younger players in the new generation don’t have those values, as opposed to Roger (Federer) Rafa (Nadal) Serena or Venus (Williams). We, the champions, need to be examples. You give your life on the court, but the respect and love are there win or lose.
Translated by MAN