China’s Li Na Italy’s Francesca Schiavone will play a close final on Saturday.
The sun is promising to shine over Paris on Saturday, and we should have a fantastic final at Roland Garros, where surprise finalist Li Na will face defending champion, Francesca Schiavone. While Schiavone is the defending champion and knows well how to win in the Parisian sunshine, Li will be on her second consecutive Grand Slam final, the other being a loss to Kim Clijsters in the 2011 Australian Open final.
The bettings odds show there’s next to nothing separating these two, bet365 and Bodog have Schiavone retaining the title at evens and Li taking it off her at 4/5. History also reckons there isn’t much between them; Li and Schiavone have split their past four meetings, two wins apiece. Maybe the only telling difference in this game is that Schiavone won at this venue last year and that has to be an advantage.
It seems that the days of the teenage wunder kids of tennis has been and gone, as this year’s French Open Finalists have a combined age of 59 (Schiavone is 30 and Li is 29) that means that this year’s Women’s Final has the highest combined age for a Grand Slam final since Jana Novotna played Nathalie Tauziat at Wimbledon in 1998. Plus if the Italian fifth seed wins she will be the first grand slam winner in her 30s since Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon in 1990.
Li has worked hard for her spot in the final and knocked out Petra Kvitova, Viktoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova along the way. Meanwhile Schiavone proved that sometimes age ain't nothing but a number as she beat leading teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her quarter final and home favourite Marion Bartoli in at the semi-final stage. It’s a tale of conflicting styles as Schiavone’s kick serve, sweeping single-handed backhand and physical prowess (so suited to the Paris clay) goes up against the powerful baseline hitting of Li. "We are not similar players but we are strong people, strong personalities," said Schiavone. "I play the kicker, slice and topspin, she plays much more with power, but the key could be the consistency."
Doing it for the Chinese people!
While Schiavone looks to give herself back to back French Open victories, Li carries the expectations of the Chinese people on her shoulders. China has never had a Grand Slam singles champion. Li had a poor run of form since her Melbourne defeat, but seems to have rediscovered her abilities (just in time for the Paris Open). The about-face in form and results might be attributed to a change of coach as Li has brought in Michael Mortensen, to great effect.
With two cracking players facing off over the net on Saturday there’s plenty of entertainment to be had, but very slim pickings from the bookies. Either player taking the first set 6-0 is at 35/1, while the first set going to a tie break (either way) is 11/1 all with bet365. The only bet on the first set that speaks to me is either Schiavone winning it 6-4 or Li winning 6-3, both at 6/1. I’m undecided on who will win it but the numbers feel likely. Alternatively bet365 have Li winning the first set and losing the match at 13/2, Schiavone doing the same at 5/1 and Li to win the first and go on to take the title at 5/4. Also it is worth looking in the tennis picks thread by Shari91 on the forum, plently of people considering all the angles there.
In her Semi Final clash with Sharapova (who had led Li 5-2 over their seven meetings including their only meeting at Roland Garros in 2009), Li came out with guns blazing and broke Sharapova early on. It was a great encounter and Sharapova broke Li back to tie the set 4-4. But the pressure on the Russian was immense and Li offered no respite, which eventually forced Sharapova into double faults that finally lost her the set. With so much at stake on Saturday I’m banking on the match being the equal of the occasion and serving up a feast of tennis. Schiavone’s French Open record reads 33-9, that’s the third-highest among active players while Li is likely to break into the top five in the rankings thanks to this final. What’s more if she wins, she will reach fourth, equalling the highest-ever ranking by a woman from Asia (Japan's Date-Krumm).
Prediction: A three set stunner, with a Chinese champion crowned at the end.