By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) - Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur do not appear on any of the billboards on the approaches to Roland Garros but they will take center stage Saturday in one of the most unlikely French Open finals for years.
Not since 2004 has the women's showpiece in Paris featured two players in their first grand slam singles final but this one is even more surprising than the showdown six years ago when Anastasia Myskina beat Elena Dementieva.
Both of them were fast-rising Russians whereas Stosur, a former world number one doubles player, and the durable 29-year-old Italian Schiavone are Tour stalwarts.
Neither would have been on many lists of potential champions but they are both determined to seize their golden opportunity.
"It's been really fantastic up until this time, so hopefully I can make it a little bit better tomorrow," Stosur, who has blazed a trail past four-times champion Justine Henin, world number one Serena Williams and former world number one Jelena Jankovic to become the first Australian woman to reach a grand slam final since Wendy Turnbull in 1980.
"I've had some great matches up to this point. But none of those win me the match tomorrow," added the seventh seed whose parents and younger brother are jetting in especially from Down Under to watch the biggest moment of her career.
Schiavone, who celebrated her semi-final victory over injured Dementieva by planting a kiss on the red dust of Court Philippe Chatrier, said she would scoop up a handful of the clay surface and take it home to Milan if she wins.
"I've been waiting my life for this," Schiavone told reporters. "I think I was born to play tennis, so this a dream, and this is reality now."
Whatever transpires Saturday the record books will have to be edited.
Stosur, 26, a semi-finalist here last year who has grown to love claycourts despite the lack of them at home, is bidding to become the first Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong triumphed at Wimbledon in 1980 to win one of the big four prizes.
Not since Margaret Court in 1973 has an Australian won the singles at Roland Garros.
All the statistics will go out of the window Saturday, however, as two contrasting styles clash on center court for the 1.2 million euros ($1.46 million) prize but more importantly to get their hands on the Suzanne Lenglen Trophy.
With temperatures expected to hit 30 degrees, Stosur's high-kicking serve, reminiscent of compatriot Pat Rafter's, could be a key factor in the outcome. Serena Williams never got to grips with it and it bamboozled Jankovic.
The seventh seed's punishing forehand, described as "like a man's" by Jankovic has also been used to leave a trail of destruction in her wake.
"I don't know what the temperature is going to be tomorrow, but it's pretty hot today," Stosur told reporters Friday. "Maybe that will be good for me. But I'll be ready for anything that happens tomorrow."
Schiavone, who has lost four out of five meetings with Stosur including last year' French Open first round, will have to be at her crafty best and will start as under-dog, but a tournament that has been impossible to call remains so.
"Nothing to lose?" Schiavone shot back when asked if she was just happy to be in the final. "No. When you want something you have always something to lose.
"For sure she has better ranking, so is her turn to go to take this trophy. But tennis is a sport and in sport you never know what's going on."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)