PARIS, May 28 (Reuters) - Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone have got history when it comes to tennis marathons and the two claycourt warriors were at it again at the French Open on Thursday.
Sent out to the so-called Bullring court, a claustrophobic circular arena tucked away at the edge of Roland Garros, the two former French Open champions produced easily the best women's match of the tournament so far, going toe-to-toe like a couple of middleweight boxers before Italian Schiavone finally prevailed 7-6(11) 5-7 10-8 in 10 minutes under four hours.
It fell a way short of the four hours and 44 minutes it took Schiavone to beat Kuznetsova 16-14 in the deciding set at the Australian Open in 2011 -- a grand slam record for a women's match -- but it more than matched it for intensity.
The 2009 champion Kuznetsova served for the match four times from 5-4 in a gripping deciding set but each time the 34-year-old Schiavone, the oldest player to reach the second round, refused to buckle and broke back.
Kuznetsova had a solitary match point when Schiavone served at 5-6 but could do nothing as her opponent unleashed a winner with her single-handed backhand -- the shot that played such a role in her 2010 title in Paris.
Both players were out on their feet, chalk dust caked to their calves and Schiavone sat down on a line judge's chair for a quick breather at 8-8 before springing back to finally hold serve after the players traded nine consecutive breaks.
And when her chance finally came after hanging on for so long she made no mistake, an enthralling contest ending when Kuznetsova dinked a volley into the net.