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Monday, December 6, 2010
Updated: December 7, 4:48 PM ET
Magical moment for Schiavone

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

Sitting in a cozy French restaurant in Wimbledon Village, Francesca Schiavone leafed through a scrapbook two weeks after her greatest triumph. In a back room with two friends, the Italian star laughed often as she flipped through the photos from France that had been organized by one of her fans.

In 38 previous Grand Slam singles draws, the furthest Schiavone had ever advanced was the quarterfinals -- in 2001 at Roland Garros, the 2003 U.S. Open and in 2009 at Wimbledon. But this year in Paris, something magical happened. After an indifferent clay-court run-up (she was a combined 3-3 in Stuttgart, Rome and Madrid), Schiavone found an equilibrium at the storied, ivy-covered venue and blasted through the field. She beat Caroline Wozniacki, Elena Dementieva and Samantha Stosur -- top 10 players all -- on the way to her first major title.

Schiavo, as her family and friends call her, only three weeks from her 30th birthday, kissed the red clay, and Court Philippe Chatrier just might have kissed her back. In a year marked by injuries and no-shows, her joy and exuberance were something to behold and cherish. It was by far my favorite moment of the women's season. Schiavone became the first Italian to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era and the second-oldest woman to win her first major. In some ways, it was reminiscent of Amelie Mauresmo's final flourish in 2006, when she broke through and won the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

At Wimbledon, predictably, Schiavone didn't fare well. She lost to Sorana Cirstea in the first round. It didn't really seem to be bothering her a few days later in that French restaurant.

After finishing some duck and red wine with friends, I stopped at her table on the way out.

"I was happy to see you win in Paris," I said.

"It made me happy, too," she said, beaming.

And that was before she closed out her career season with a Fed Cup finals victory over the United States. It was a storybook season for Schiavone, but the rest of women's tennis wasn't so fortunate.

Here's a look back at the rest of the WTA's dislocated 2010 season:

Overall grade: Incomplete

It wasn't even November when the news came out: Serena Williams won't be playing in the 2011 Australian Open. The right foot that was cut in a German restaurant after Wimbledon apparently required a second surgical procedure, which means Serena will miss her second consecutive Grand Slam.

Justine Henin
After a voyage to the Australian Open final, Justine Henin's comeback was cut short by injury.

The way things have been going in women's tennis -- even Kim Clijsters (foot injury) missed a major -- that's about right.

Who knows what to expect from Justine Henin? After mounting a formidable comeback following an 18-month sabbatical, she pushed Serena to three sets in the final of the 2010 Australian Open. But she lost to Sam Stosur in the fourth round at Roland Garros and to Clijsters in the fourth round of Wimbledon. A ligament tear in her right elbow, sustained during a fall in that last match, knocked her out for the rest of the season. When the balls start flying in Australia next season, she will have missed more than six months. Venus Williams (right knee) checked out after the U.S. Open, and Dinara Safina, once No. 1, was plagued by a back injury and suffered through a miserable 13-16 season.

The best player you've probably never heard of

She no longer has mastery over her legs, but Esther Vergeer has won 400 consecutive tennis matches from the seat of her wheelchair. That's the best run in the history of tennis.

Vergeer recently won the NEC Masters in Amsterdam. Twenty years ago, she became paralyzed below the waist after undergoing surgery for a brain hemorrhage. She reached the No. 1 ranking in 1999 and hasn't lost a match in nearly seven years. That's been good for 102 straight tournament titles, 10 ITF world championships, 12 NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters titles and five Paralympic gold medals.

Player of the year

Clijsters won only a single Grand Slam title, the last of the year, in New York, but her body of work was judged superior by fans and media votes. She won four other tournaments, including the year-end WTA Championships and the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami -- arguably the next most-important titles after the Grand Slams. Clijsters also won the WTA's Player Service Award, which goes to the player who does the most to support her peers on the tour.

The golden retriever

In a season of inconsistency, Caroline Wozniacki was the steadiest WTA player of them all and was rewarded with the No. 1 ranking. She won 62 of 79 matches and nearly $4.5 million, but she didn't reach a major final.

A Williams-less Fed Cup

Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Melanie Oudin have never been ranked in the top 10 or won a Grand Slam title, but they almost won the Fed Cup title without any help from Serena and Venus.

Oudin went 2-0 in singles and Mattek-Sands was 2-0 in singles and doubles as the U.S. defeated France 4-1 in the first round. In a surprising 3-2 semifinals victory over Russia (including Elena Dementieva), Oudin was 1-1 and Mattek-Sands put three points on the board, two in singles and, with Liezel Huber, the ultimate win in doubles.

Ivanovic makes a comeback

For a dozen giddy weeks in the wake of her surprise win at Roland Garros in 2008, Ana Ivanovic was the No. 1-ranked player in the world. And then, mysteriously, she didn't win one tournament in 2009. After winning a total of only one match in three Grand Slam events earlier this year, her ranking fell to No. 63. Ivanovic, just as surprisingly, rallied at the end of the year and finds herself ranked at No. 17. She reached the semifinals at Cincinnati and the fourth round of the U.S. Open, and won titles at Linz and Bali.

In the midst of her hot streak, she explained her slump this way: "It was a variety of reasons, because I did have some injury issues -- the thumb was the worst one, just before the Olympics, so I had to withdraw, which was very, very hard for me. Then I played some tournaments when I wasn't ready. I started losing to lower-ranked players, and there is all this pressure because you are No. 1 and you are losing to these players. You start to lose confidence, and I do tend to overanalyze things. When you're young, you have nothing to lose and play with no fear. But when you have been successful and won a Grand Slam, and all of a sudden you're losing, it's very frustrating. It's a vicious circle -- you just don't know where the beginning is, or the end, either."

So long

Elena Dementieva
Perhaps the best player never to have won a Grand Slam, Elena Dementieva called it quits after the Sony Ericsson Championships.

Elena Dementieva retired at the age of 29. Her groundstrokes were ferocious -- if only she had a service game to match, she might have won a handful of Grand Slam singles titles. She reached the semifinals at Roland Garros this year (losing to eventual champion Schiavone), but a calf injury prevented her from playing Wimbledon, ending a streak of 46 consecutive appearances in majors.

The closest she came to winning a Slam came in 2004, when she was beaten by fellow Russians in the finals at Paris and New York. Her finest moment came at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where she won the gold medal. Dementieva beat Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round, Serena in the quarters, then two Russians, Vera Zvonareva and Dinara Safina. It was tough to watch her lose the French Open final to Anastasia Myskina; her serve just fell apart and she was powerless to put it back together. The next day I saw her walking near the Opera, hand in hand with her mother with a few shopping bags on her arm.

Etcetera

Vera Zvonareva produced her best season, finishing No. 2 at the age of 26. She reached the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Congratulations to the WTA 2010 award winners: Flavia Pennetta and Gisela Dulko were the top doubles team, winning seven titles and finishing the season at No. 1. At one point, they won 17 consecutive matches, best on tour since March 2007.

Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic was the Newcomer of the Year, posting a record of 25-24, reaching the semis at Wimbledon and finishing at No. 34.

Henin was voted Comeback Player of the Year after an 18-month sabbatical. She reached the final in her first tournament, Brisbane, and went all the way to the Australian Open final before losing to Serena.

The players' favorite tournament? The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.