IT SEEMED LIKE FOREVER AS SCHIAVONE AND KUZNETSOVA TRAVEL A 4:44 ROUTE

AAMI Park, marvelous new arena for football and rugby

AAMI Park, marvelous new arena for football and rugby

MELBOURNE – A couple of very nice young ladies went out to play a game of tennis at Melbourne Park Sunday.  They’d done it before.  Twelve times over eight years.  But they weren’t ready for what happened – something that had never happened in the history of the Australian Open.

They would play, and play, and play. And play some more.  Plus quite a bit more – wondering if they would spend their lives on that tennis court.  Help!  Who would liberate them – Italian Francesca Schiavone and Russian Svetlana “Koozy” Kuznetsova – as the hours and thousands of shots, acrobatics and scintillating rallies went by?

After a while it seemed that there was no escaping their fourth round collision that grew like a snake on steroids.  But everything ends, even when it seems like hard labor, and their 13th encounter was unlucky for Kuznetsova, whose dossier contains U.S. (2004) and French (2009) titles.

However it takes two to tangle in such a record, a cooperative venture that made them the gals who suffered and starred through the longest singles match ever in a major championship – 4-hours-44 minutes. 4:44!

The decision went to French Open champ Schiavone, closing with a crisp crosscourt-forehand-and-volley combo, 6-4, 1-6, 16-14. You could see why they call her La Lionessa at home in Italy.  She comes at you growling, and in the 3-hour third set Francesca clawed her way through six match points.

AAMI Park, opened in 2010

AAMI Park, opened in 2010

Both she and Koozy were gallant and determined as the final set went back and fourth.  If one scored a service break, the other got it back with feverish shotmaking.  They were gunning not fading all the way while the audience screamed.

Koozy led 8-4 head-to-head when they began keeping company in 2003 at Doha, and had won their only previous major encounter, fourth round of the French in 2006.  She was fresh from a big win over Justine Henin.

“I don’t remember any of the match points,” Koozy said.  “Maybe in a few days I’ll watch a video.  [Double jeopardy?] But it’s too hard to talk about right now.  The match could go either way so many times.  We both fighted so hard all the way, and the important points Francesca just played better.  I give her credit.

“I’m happy my memory isn’t that good.  Usually I forget a loss, but I won’t forget this for a long time.  At some stage I was like what’s the score.  Who’s up?  She?  Me? Who’s serving?  I had no clue sometimes.”

The swooping, swatting, scrambling Francesca grinned, “It was fantastic.  Someday I hope to show the DVD to my son.  I was watching the clock.  I say, ‘Brava! Francesca.  You are tough physically.’  Great for me.  I work to do this sort of thing.  When we finish I tell Svetlana she is great, fantastic,  We respect each other.  In a situation like this every point is like a match point.  You have to keep going.  You are tired but so is the other one.” And so she heads for the quarter finals where her next opponent will be  top seed, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

Eureka Tower

Eureka Tower

Who knows how long their record – 4:44 – will stick?  Kuznetsova and Schiavone broke 4:19 set only last year as Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova beat Russian Regina Kulikova, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (10-12), 6-3.

But the gramma of them all is 6:31 commited by two Americans, way back in 1984 at a Richmond, Va., tournament. Vicki Nelson Dunbar beat Jean Hepner, 6-4, 7-6 (13-11).  The tie-breaker alone endured for 1:47; one point lasted 29 minutes, a rally of 643 strokes.

Wonder if they (players and whatever audience) have recovered?

But you never know what will occur when two very nice young ladies go out for a game of tennis.

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