Perhaps slightly left-field but this quarter-final between Daniela Hantuchova and Francesca Schiavone at Birmingham was one of my favourite matches of the year. At an International event, I don’t think it got a great deal of coverage and if you didn’t watch it, you probably wouldn’t have thought much of it. This was a terrific tussle between two of the most experienced players on tour, who left all their variety and versatility out on the court. I am slightly biast with this match since I was actually in the crowd for the first 2 sets. I am still GUTTED to this day that I had to leave after the 2nd set to catch my train… damn you rain!!!!!
All three sets were highly competitive, but what I liked most about this match is that it got better and better as the epic 3 hours and 21 minutes drew out. The first set was solid, yet unspectacular and came alive in a tight first set tiebreak. Hantuchova had been the better player throughout the first set, but Schiavone’s accurate serving had kept her toe-to-toe with the Slovakian player. The pair played a wonderful point at 5-6 with Hantuchova down set point and then shared a laugh when Hantuchova reacted quickly to a Schiavone return that trickled over the net. Another thing I noticed being there was how poor the courts are in Birmingham and there were so many bad bounces that both players dealt with pretty well.
Schiavone won the first set on the tiebreak and then scored the first break of the match to go up 2-0 in the second set. Hantuchova called the trainer in the next game for a problem with her right foot and it looked like the match would come to an abrupt end. To add to Hantuchova’s woes, she had some shocking line calls go against her (see 1:53:30 in the first video below) and strangely, it was the frustration that seemed to spur her on. From 6-7 1-4 40-40, she tore through the next five games with some fantastic grass court tennis to force a deciding set.
Schiavone had all kinds of leads in this match, but just could not put Hantuchova away. Schiavone led 3-0 in the decider, but Hantuchova would not let go and forced a third set tiebreak, which was deserving for this match. There was a terrific ending as Hantuchova produced the shot of the match (see 07:45 in the second video), and perhaps the shot of her career based on the circumstances as she hit a crashing forehand winner down-the-line that even got an applause from Francesca.
The celebration was epic and this shot was definitely the clincher as Hantuchova wrapped up the victory. The respect between the two at the net was a perfect conclusion to thematch. Schiavone played some incredible points and her defence throughout the entire match was at times, breathktaking. However it was Hantuchova’s admirable fight that got her the victory and helped her on the way to a well deserved first Birmingham title two days later. Every time I watch highlights about this match I always end up smiling!