Italian veteran, Francesca Schiavone will contest her first WTA Final in fourteen months when she takes on Spaniard, Lara Arruabarrena at the Copa Claro Colsanitas title match in Bogota on Saturday.
The 36-year-old Schiavone had earlier in the year announced her plans to retire from tennis at the end of this season, promising to fight very hard to end on a high, and she has certainly gone some way in fulfilling that promise in Bogota, slicing through the draw without dropping a set.
The former world number four, and former French Open champion has seen her ranking slide to number 168 as a loss of form and age catch up with her, but she has shown this week that she can still got just that little bit more to offer as she navigates the final phase of her career. Heading into Bogota, Schiavone had not won a main draw match in 2017, but a return to her favourite clay has triggered a return to form, with the wildcard coming through four matches without dropping a set.
Schiavone opened with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig- her first main draw victory of the season, and she has been unstoppable since then. She conceded just three games in a second round dispatch of Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic, before cutting down top seed, Kiki Bertens 6-1 6-4 in the quarter finals. Schiavone was made to work harder by Swedish third seed, Johanna Larsson in the semi-finals.
After an early exchange of breaks, Schiavone stole a late break in the twelfth game to take the opening set. She was in danger of dropping her first set of the tournament when she trailed 4-2 in the second, but the Italian hit back with four straight games, sealing the deal on her second match point when Larsson sent a forehand long.
"In my heart I knew I could reach this final, because I worked really hard to be here," Schiavone said afterwards. "When you work hard, things happen. Sooner or later, it happens. This is just the confirmation of everything I knew, everything I wanted or could imagine."
Schiavone is seeking her eighth career title, her first since winning in Rio last season. In fact, this is her first final since she defeated American Shelby Rogers in that Rio final.
Her opponent this time is Spaniard Lara Arruabarrena, who is seeking a second Bogota title after her 2012 success.
Arruabarrena’s route to the Bogota final has sharply contrasted the serenity of Schiavone’s progress, as she has been taken to three sets in three of her four matches, and had to battle back from 0-4 down in the deciding set of her semi-final against compatriot, Sara Sorribes Tormo.
After an unimpressive 1-4 to start the year, Arruabarrena found some form with an excellent fourth round run in Miami, which included a fine victory over Madison Keys. She slipped to an opening round loss to Andrea Petkovic in Charleston, but the 25-year-old has rediscovered the winning touch in Colombia.
It has been turbulent, but she has found a way to progress to her first final since her surprise victory in Seoul in 2016. Arruabarrena came from a set down to beat Switzerland’s Conny Perrin in the opening round, before recording her only straight-sets victory of the week against Russia’s Irina Khromacheva- even then, she was dragged into an opening set tie break before rolling through the second set 6-0. Arruabarrena’s durability was again on show in her marathon quarter final victory over Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic in the quarter finals. Both ladies split the first two sets, but Arruabarrena produced a strong finish, winning the first five games of the decider before completing a 7-5 5-7 6-2 victory after two hours and 39 minutes.
She spent even longer on court against Sorribes Tormo in the semi-finals, all of that added to her doubles’ engagements! (Rain delays had forced her to play two doubles matches on Friday- thankfully for her own good, she lost the second!).
Arruabarrena’s heavy schedule seemed to have finally caught up with her when she trailed 4-0 in the final set against her compatriot, Sorribes Tormo, but her forehand then went into overdrive as she mounted a superb fight-back to take the next six games, and set up a first ever meeting with Schiavone.
"I don't feel pressure to win the title here in my last season, not at all. I just feel the desire to compete, to win, to find solutions on court and keep working hard", Schiavone said ahead of the final.
Schiavone has complained of being in pain this week, and that is understandable given her age, and the fact that this is by far her best run on the tour for some time, but she has defied all of that that to reach the final. The Italian has been rolling back the years in Bogota, and against an opponent who must surely be exhausted after a punishing week in the Colombian capital, the Italian looks set to walk away with her first title in fourteen months.