Left field

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Schiavone shows final set tiebreaks are for wimps

January 24, 2011

TENNIS-OPEN/Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova rescued the
women’s singles at the Australian Open from anonymity on Sunday
when they contested a four hour 44 minute epic that contrasted sharply with some of the dross served up by their rivals.

The third set alone lasted three hours as Italian Schiavone, a breath of fresh air for women’s tennis at the ripe old age of 30, edged a fourth round thriller 4-6 6-1 16-14.

It was a match of extremes that will surely have no equal at this year’s championships, demonstrating the compelling, edge-of-seat drama often served up at grand slams employing the “play til you drop” deciding set format.

While television schedulers may hate it, it has to be hoped that organisers in Melbourne, Roland Garros and Wimbledon never bow to the demand for “sudden death” finishes seen at most events, including the U.S. Open.

Tiebreaks also offer plenty of nerve-shredding tension but are a brutal way to finish a contest that has evolved over several hours.

Just imagine the sporting world being denied the jaw-droppingly unbelievable scenes at Wimbledon last year when John Isner and Nicolas Mahut traded blows for more than 11 hours before Isner prevailed 70-68 in the fifth set.

Schiavone’s victory was a breeze compared to that but has been the main talking point in a women’s draw which has failed to catch fire in Melbourne.

Quite what she will have in the tank against Caroline Wozniacki on Tuesday is another matter but the feisty Italian, who has been involved in several long skirmishes Down Under, would surely not want it any other way.

Nor would Rafa Nadal.

“It was possible because there was no tiebreak in the decider,” Nadal said of Schiavone’s marathon. “It was a fantastic match. It’s good for the sport. Sure it’s a good show for the tennis world.”

Nadal, as all the great champions would agree, knows there should be no short cuts in grand slam. Triumphs have to be earned the hard way — seven rounds of long, deciding sets.

It is what sets grand slams apart from regular tournaments and the
U.S. Open’s insistence on tiebreaks diminishes the spectacle and
fans can only wonder how many classics have been brutally cut
off in their prime at Flushing Meadows.

PHOTO: A combo shows Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia (L) and Francesca Schiavone of Italy receiving treatment during their match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 23, 2011. French Open champion Schiavone edged Kuznetsova 4-6 6-1 16-14 in a four-hour and 44 minute marathon on Sunday that shattered the women’s record for the longest match at a grand slam in the open era. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

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