Experience tells as Li and Schiavone line up a final of rare vintage

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The Independent Online

The French Open began with a 20-year-old, in Caroline Wozniacki, as world No 1 and a 21-year-old, in Victoria Azarenka, as the favourite of many to win the title, but it will end with a final between two of the game's more seasoned professionals. Francesca Schiavone, a 30-year-old Italian who compares herself with a wine that improves with age, will defend her title against China's Li Na, a 29-year-old who will be appearing in her second successive Grand Slam final.

If Schiavone's 6-3, 6-3 victory over the local hope, Marion Bartoli, ran true to form, Li's 6-4, 7-5 success against Maria Sharapova was a surprise. The 24-year-old Russian, who needed this title to complete her Grand Slam collection, has been playing the best clay-court tennis of her career this year, though her defeat brought reminders of the problems she has suffered since she last won a major title more than three years ago.

Sharapova had to change her service action following shoulder surgery and 10 double faults underlined the fact that she is not the player she was. The 2004 Wimbledon champion took only three of the 11 break points she created, compared with her opponent's success rate of five from eight.

Li, who lost to Kim Clijsters in the Australian Open final, is aiming to become the first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title. "It's something important for Chinese tennis because they broadcast the match live on Chinese TV," she said. "I think many children have been able to watch the match and they are maybe thinking that one day they'll be able to do the same, or even better."

When Schiavone won here last year just 18 days before her 30th birthday she was the second oldest first-time Grand Slam champion in the Open era. At No 17 in the world, she was also the lowest-ranked first-time winner for 34 years. The past 12 months have not been easy for the current world No 5, who has not won a title since, but Roland Garros has again brought the best out of her.

"Some years ago the champions were always young players, but now it is changing," Schiavone said. "Years can help a lot, the experience. It's like wine. The more it stays in the bottle, it's much better."