This is a story about player development – though the player at hand is closer to the end than the start. Francesca Schiavone had announced that 2017 would be her last year as a pro. She will turn 37 in June. Ranked 90 in the world at the end of 2016, by last Monday she was down to 168.
But then she had been offered a wild card to the Claro Open Colsanitas, a WTA clay court stop in Bogota. Likely this was just a courtesy, extended to a woman who’s signature moment had also come on clay. Nearly seven years ago, Schiavone had surprised the world – including even herself – with a title run at Roland Garros. She also had hardly distinguished herself in Bogota, winning just one match in two appearances.
What does any of this have to do with player development? The answer comes in what Schiavone did this past week – and more significantly, how she did it. She caught fire. In the first round, Schiavone upset sixth-seeded Patricia Maria Tig. In the quarters, down went the number one seed, Kiki Bertens. Two more wins followed – third-seeded Johanna Larsson, followed by a victory in the finals fourth-seeded Lara Arruabarrena. Schiavone had won her eigth career title – and done so without the loss of a set.
The player development implication: Schiavone’s playing style. This is someone who at a young age, went about studying a wide range of tactics – spin, pace, court positioning. To be sure, it is in some ways a game from another era, Schiavone more akin to such ‘70s players as Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals than the groundstroke-based manner seen in contemporary tennis. But that very variety is likely a reason Schiavone continues to enjoy competition. Worn out? Of course. Burn out? Not likely. Hopefully, coaches and parents smitten with player development will take heed.