Francesca Schiavone becomes only Italian woman to win a grand slam

FOR years the French Open has struggled to produce a women's final that anyone can remember. Indeed, a women's final that anyone would want to remember.

• Schiavone took the title in two sets Pic:Getty

But just when many a so-called expert had all but dismissed yesterday's final between Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur as dull and unimportant, the two women produced a cracking match and Schiavone, the eventual 6-4, 7-6 winner, emerged as the new darling of Roland Garros.

It takes a lot to win over the Parisians who pack the Court Philippe Chatrier, as much to be seen as to see what happens on finals weekend, but in 98 minutes of tactical nous, athletic strength and emotional exuberance, Schiavone managed it. She played the match of her life and, after four consecutive losses to Stosur, she played the most intelligent match of her life. And when it was all over, she let everyone see just how much it meant to her. For that, the Parisians will love her for evermore.

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"I prepare the final mentally and tactically very well," she said. "I was so concentrated on myself and I tried not to look anywhere but I just try to feel my play and be as aggressive as I could. To keep going to the net was my tactic and to press the backhand because on the forehand she is so strong." That was as much tennis as anyone really wanted to hear about. The thoughts of how a 29-year-old who had spent most of her life on the periphery of the sport, who had only won three small titles in the course of 15 years on the tour, who had emerged through the rubble of the draw and gone on to win one of the biggest tournaments in the world – that was what the world wanted to hear about.

"I always dream and I always believe in myself," Schiavone explained, "not about a trophy or a tournament but just about myself. That was the key. I am so happy. I am really so happy. Pah!" And then she smiled. Schiavone did a lot of smiling yesterday.

Stosur was the clear favourite going into the final. Not only did she have that winning record over the Italian, but she had also beaten Justine Henin, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic in the three previous rounds. With every match, she had looked stronger – both physically and mentally – and she seemed ready to win her first grand slam title at the age of 26.

But she had not accounted for Schiavone. Everyone has always known about the Italian's fighting spirit and her speed around the court, but no one had given her any credit for her tactical brain or, indeed, her self-belief.

Standing a diminutive 5ft 5ins, she mopped up the power game of Stosur and then used it against her. Jankovic and Henin had both likened the Australian's game to that of a man – they meant it as a compliment, mind you – as no one on the women's tour uses the kick serve or can wallop a forehand like she does. But even as the ball bounced high around her earlobes, little Schiavone reached up and connected with her backhand and used it to attack Stosur's defences.

As the Australian began to doubt her main weapons, so Schiavone had won the battle of wills. By halfway through the second set tiebreak, she knew she had the championship wrapped up, too, and it was all she could do to contain her excitement. When, at last, the final point was won, she fell to the ground and then kissed the court. And all the time she smiled.

She ran to her support crew and disappeared under a heap of bodies as everyone with even the slightest connection to the Schiavone family or to Italy tried to hug and kiss her.

"They are all my family, all the people who work with me, all my friends when I was two or three years old," Schiavone said. "I've just seen them and I said 'you are crazy! What are you doing here?' They say, 'we took the car, we came ten hours. You didn't pay us the flight so we had to take the car'. It was fantastic."

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Only when Giorgio Napolitano, the president of Italy, called her minutes after the match ended did Schiavone look a little serious. "He said 'congratulations – enjoy this moment. It was an honour for Italy'" Schiavone said, before smiling yet again.

The fact that she was able to take home just over 1.25 million would have made her grin a bit, too. She won 927,000 at Roland Garros, a figure that was topped up by another 331,000 as a win bonus from the Italian Tennis Federation. It meant that in the space of two weeks in Paris, she had increased her career earnings by a third. Not that the money really mattered – it was the fact that she had believed in her dream and believed in herself that made her smile most of all.

"I guess my win means that everybody has the chance really to be who you want to be and to do everything in your life," Schiavone said. "This is what's happened to me. You can arrive here if you really work hard and if you have something really special inside. You can work hard, you can be patient. I don't think you can build something with out all of yourself."

With that sort of confidence backing her until the end of her career, it is unlikely that Schiavone will ever stop smiling.