The slogan on the T-shirts worn by Francesca Schiavone's supporters at Roland Garros said it all: Schiavo Nothing Is Impossible. If ever there was a result to prove that hard work and self-belief can conquer all, it was the Italian's 6-4, 7-6 victory over Australia's Samantha Stosur in the French Open final here on Saturday.
In 15 years on the professional circuit Schiavone had won only three tournaments and never reached the world's top 10, but at the age of 29 years and 11 months the world No 17 – who will climb 11 places in today's updated rankings list – became the first Italian woman ever to win a Grand Slam title. She also became the lowest-ranked Roland Garros champion since Sue Barker, the world No 18 when she won in 1976, and the oldest first-time Grand Slam winner since Ann Jones took Wimbledon at the age of 30 in 1969.
"I think when you are 27, 28, 29 you can be much more conscious of what you are feeling," Schiavone said by way of explanation of her remarkable feat. "You can really live and feel what's going on. You know where your power is. It's like when you kiss someone for the first time when you're a kid. When you do it years later it feels much better."
Stosur, who had been the pre-match favourite but was undone by Schiavone's perfect blend of dogged defence and controlled aggression, agreed. "She's obviously fit and healthy, and it doesn't matter what the age," the world No 7 said. "If you've got that desire, anyone can do it. I think it proves you don't have to be the teenage wonderkid superstar to win a tournament like this."
Schiavone took a congratulatory phone call on the court from her country's president, Giorgio Napolitano, and yesterday dominated the sports pages of Italian newspapers ahead of both her own idol, the motorcyclist Valentino Rossi, who had broken a leg in practice, and the nation's footballers, who were playing their final warm-up match before the World Cup.
While clay is Schiavone's favourite surface, she believes she can build on this success at other Grand Slam events, including Wimbledon, where she reached the quarter-finals last year, having won only three matches in her five previous visits to the All England Club.
"You have to believe in yourself, to feel something inside," she said. "You keep dreaming. It's not like I dream of becoming Angelina Jolie. That's impossible. But I keep dreaming about goals that are within my reach, that I can achieve by working hard every day."