By Adrianna Outlaw
© Mark Peterson/Corleve
(January 23,2011) An epic encounter escalated into uncharted territory carrying both competitors into history. In a match where time meant nothing, timing was everything. Fueled by ferocity, Francesca Schiavone fought off six match points to finally subdue Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 to prevail in four hours, 44 minutes — the longest women's Grand Slam match in Open Era history.
Exhaustion turned to elation in the end as the sixth-seeded Schiavone advanced to her first career Australian Open quarterfinal in 11 appearances Down Under. Will Schiavone, who is surely set to feel a level of soreness previously inexperienced, have any legs left when she takes on World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki for a spot in the final four?
A battle between former French Open champions saw Kuznetsova push Schiavone to the edge of elimination six times only to see the tenacious Italian stage a series of comebacks from match point down.
Kuznetsova, who conquered seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin in the fourth round, won more points (181 to 177) than Schiavone in a match that featured 50 break point chances and 17 service breaks.
Remarkably, the level of play and intensity increased as the match progressed.
"When we were equal, I was match points up. But I maybe didn't do enough or she played pretty well, made some winners and she went for it," Kuznetsova said. "I mean, it's very hard to say something straight after the match. I just feel very empty. I don't know what to say."
While this trip into history did not approach John Isner-Nicolas Mahut lengths, it waged on for so long Kuznetsova conceded at times she had no clue who was serving and lost count of the score.
"At some stage I was like, what's the score? Who's serving? I was like, what's going on anyway here?" Kuznetsova said. "I had no clue sometimes. It was so hard to count. I was like, who is up? She? Me? It's really hard to say which point you're talking about right now. We had some good points at the net."
This tennis tug of war was deadlocked at 14-14 when Schiavone took the initiative. Bending low she scooped out a full-stretch forehand volley winner crosscourt than left Kuznetsova flat-footed to break for 15-14.
Serving for the match, Schiavone followed a slice serve to net and threw down an overhead winner to earn a second match point. Schiavone unleashed a surprise serve-and-volley on the ensuing point, but Kuznetsova knifed a jagged slice return that eluded the Italian.
A running Kuznetsova forehand sailed wide and Schiavone had a third match point.
Again attacking net, Schiavone knocked off a forehand volley to conclude a historic encounter. When it was finally over, the 30-year-old Italian looked too tired to celebrate extensively. She engaged in a heart-felt hug with Kuznetsova at net, clasped her hands in front of her as if in prayer and then applauded the crowd in a show of thanks for their support.
Eight months ago,the 17th-seeded Schiavone became the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam championship, surprising Australia's Samantha Stosur, 6-4, 7-6(2), to capture the French Open title in a match of first-time finalists. Competing with grit and guts today, Schiavone battled into her third major quarterfinal in her last four Grand Slam appearances.