Schiavone employs an all-court game and has a very classic approach to her clay game. She uses an extreme eastern grip on her one-handed backhand. Chris Fowler and Brad Gilbert described her forehand as a "buggy whip."
Schiavone has won six singles titles on the WTA tour and has also achieved eleven runners-up positions, eight of them since the autumn of 2005. Schiavone lost her first eight career finals before finally winning her first title in July 2007. She and her Italian teammates Mara Santangelo, Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci beat the Belgium team 3–2 in the 2006 Fed Cup final. Justine Henin had to retire in the fifth and final match due to an injury in her right knee, which let Italy win their first Fed Cup trophy. This match was a doubles match and Kirsten Flipkens partnered Henin and Roberta Vinci partnered Schiavone. In 2009 she won the Fed Cup with Italy for the second time against the USA, and also made the quarter-finals of Wimbledon for the first time. In 2010 Italy with Schiavone won the Fed Cup for the third time.
In addition she realized a notable victory during the quarterfinals of the 2008 Dubai Duty Free Women's Open, when she upset world No. 1 and four-time champion Henin 7–6, 7–6. She also beat Amelie Mauresmo in a Fed Cup tie in 2006 when Mauresmo was ranked No. 1.
Partnering with Australian Casey Dellacqua, Schiavone was the runner-up in the women's doubles competition at the 2008 French Open where they lost to Anabel Medina Garrigues and Virginia Ruano Pascual. Schiavone also reached the semifinals of the doubles event at the other three grand slams.
At the Australian Open Francesca defeated Frenchwomen Alize Cornet 0–6, 7–5, 6–0. and Julie Coin 6–3, 6–4 first before upsetting No. 10 seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6–2, 6–2. Though she matched her best results there (4R), she went on to lose to No. 6 seed Venus Williams after winning the first set 3–6, 6–2, 6–1.
She beat Alberta Brianti, Tathiana Garbin, Carla Suarez Navarro, Yaroslava Shvedova, and Roberta Vinci all in straight sets to win her 3rd WTA title at the Barcelona Ladies Open.
Seeded 17th entering the 2010 French Open, Schiavone was lightly regarded as a contender for the championship. She defeated Regina Kulikova, Sophie Ferguson, 11th seed Li Na, and 30th seed Maria Kirilenko to reach her first French Open quarterfinal since 2001 (where she had lost to Martina Hingis). In the quarterfinals, she defeated World No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets to become the first Italian woman to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam singles event.
The semifinals of the French Open consisted of four players (Jelena Jankovic, Elena Dementieva, Samantha Stosur and Schiavone) who had never won a Grand Slam singles event; nevertheless, most in the tennis community, including ESPN's tennis commentary team of Mary Jo Fernandez, Patrick McEnroe and Brad Gilbert singled out Schiavone as the one player who was not a serious contender to win the title. In the semifinals, Schiavone defeated World No. 5 and 2004 finalist Dementieva after Dementieva retired in the second set with a torn calf muscle having lost the first set in a tiebreaker; the victory made Schiavone the first Italian woman to reach a Grand Slam final, and assured that she would become a top-ten player for the first time following the tournament.
In the final, Schiavone faced Stosur in a rematch of their first-round meeting at the 2009 French Open which Stosur had won easily (6–4, 6–2). Because of this previous result, and Stosur's victories over four-time French Open champion Justine Henin, World No. 1 Serena Williams and World No. 4 Jankovic en route to the final, Stosur was considered a heavy favorite to defeat Schiavone. However, on 5 June 2010, Schiavone defied expectations to become the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, defeating Stosur 6–4, 7–6. The victory made her only the third Italian player to win a Grand Slam event in singles, after Nicola Pietrangeli and Adriano Panatta. The victory also meant she rose to number 6 in the World Rankings on 7 June 2010 and became the highest ranked Italian woman ever after Flavia Pennetta reached world No. 10 in 2009.
Schiavone's next event after the French Open was Eastbourne, where she lost in the first-round to Sorana Cirstea 5–7, 3–6.
Schiavone was the 5th seed at Wimbledon, due to the pre-tournament withdrawal of Dementieva, however she lost to Vera Dushevina in the first round 7–6, 5–7, 1–6.
Schiavone reached the quarterfinals of the 2010 Rogers Cup, where she fell to top seed Caroline Wozniacki.
Schiavone was the 6th seed at the US Open. She defeated Ayumi Morita, Maria Elena Camerin, 29th seed Alona Bondarenko, and 20th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2003 (where she had lost to Jennifer Capriati). In the quarterfinals, she fell to seven-time Grand Slam singles champion No.3 seed Venus Williams 7–6, 6–4.
As the 5th seed, Schiavone reached the semifinals of the 2010 Toray Pan Pacific Open, where she fell to 7th seed Elena Dementieva.
At the season-ending WTA Tour Championships, Schiavone competed for the first time in her career but was eliminated in the round robin stage. Schiavone fell to Caroline Wozniacki in three sets, Samantha Stosur in two sets and before defeating Elena Dementieva in what would be Dementieva's final career match.
Schiavone began the year at the 2011 Hopman Cup representing Italy. In singles, Schiavone defeated Great Britain's Laura Robson, but fell to American Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Schiavone retired with an injury against Kristina Mladenovic.
Seeded 6th at the 2011 Australian Open, Schiavone advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time in her career upon a victory over 23rd seeded and two-time grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. The 4th round encounter lasted nearly five hours (4:44; 47 games in total), and Schiavone saved six match points before finally prevailing 6–4, 1–6, 16–14. With this win, Schiavone rose in the rankings to World No. 4 after the tournament, the highest ranking ever achieved by an Italian woman, improving her own record. In the quarterfinal against World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, Schiavone was a set and 3–1 up in the second set, but was broken twice by Wozniacki in the same set and twice in the third, to lose 3–6, 6–3, 6–3 after saving three match points.
At the 2011 Dubai Tennis Championships, Schiavone was seeded 3rd, but fell in the Round of 16 to Kuznetsova. At the 2011 Qatar Ladies Open in Doha, Schiavone fell to Peng Shuai in the Round of 16. She then fell to eventual champion Jelena Dokic at the 2011 Malaysian Open. Schiavone then reached the Round of 16 again at the 2011 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, falling to Shahar Pe'er. Seeded 5th at the 2011 Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, Schiavone reached the Round of 16, losing to Agnieszka Radwanska.
Schiavone began her clay court season with a Round of 16 loss to Radwanska at the 2011 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. She then reached the Round of 16 at the 2011 Mutua Madrid Open, falling to Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Following Madrid, Schiavone then reached the quarterfinals of the 2011 Internazionali BNL d'Italia, losing to World No. 7 Samantha Stosur, in a rematch of the 2010 French Open final. She then lost to World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in three sets during the semifinals of the 2011 Brussels Open, the last tournament before the French Open.
Schiavone was the 5th seed and the defending champion at the 2011 French Open. She beat Melanie Oudin, Vesna Dolonts, 29th seed Peng Shuai, 10th seed Jelena Jankovic, 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and 11th seed Marion Bartoli to reach the final. In the final, she lost to Li Na, 6–4, 7–6.
Schiavone then switched to the grass courts, falling to Agnieszka Radwanska at the 2011 Aegon International in her only Wimbledon warmup. She was the 6th seed at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships, losing in the third round to Tamira Paszek of Austria.
During the Rogers Cup, Schiavone won her opening round match against Ekaterina Makarova but fell in the third round to Lucie Safarova
The Western & Southern Open saw another early round loss for Schiavone. It took her three sets to defeat Maria Kirilenko in her opening round match. She then lost to former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in a third round three-setter.
Just before the US Open Schiavone entered the New Haven Open. She defeated Alexandra Dulgheru and Monica Niculescu in the first two rounds. Her quarterfinal match against Anabel Medina Garrigues was a walkover. Schiavone was defeated by World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets in the semifinals.
Schiavone reached the fourth round of the US Open where she lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
At the China Open Schiavone emerged victorious in the first round against Bojana Jovanovski but was then defeated in the second round by Dominika Cibulkova.
Schiavone started her 2012 season at the Brisbane International as the 4th seed where she reached the semi-finals, beating Jelena Jankovic en route 5–7 7–6(3) 6–3 (she saved 2 m.p's at 6–5 down second set) before losing to eventual champion Kaia Kanepi 6–3 6–0 in a lackluster performance. She then played at the Apia International in Sydney where she defeated 6th seed Sam Stosur in the first round 6–2 6–4 before losing to Daniela Hantuchova 7–5 6–1.
As the 11th seed at the Australian Open, Schiavone was upset in the 2nd round by fellow Italian Romina Oprandi 6–3 6–4.
Schiavone struggled whilst representing Italy at Fed Cup versus Ukraine, losing to a non-top 100 player Lesia Tsurenko comprehensively 6–1 6–2 and barely getting past Kateryna Bondarenko 6–7(6) 7–5 6–4. Despite her struggles, Italy still managed to progress through to the semi-finals.
Schiavone played in the mini gulf series in Doha and Dubai losing early in both of them as the 7th seed; Doha in the 2nd round to Yanina Wickmayer 6–4 7–6(4) and in her Dubai opener to Ana Ivanovic 6–1 7–5.
At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, she (as 10th seed) avenged her Fed Cup loss by beating Lesia Tsurenko 6–2 6–4 before retiring against Lucie Safarova in the third round after losing the first set 6–2. With the same seeding in Miami, she lost to Ksenia Pervak 6–4 4–6 7–5 in her opener, blowing a 3–0 final set lead.
After lackluster results, the clay court season was a chance for Schiavone to get back on form on her favourite surface, but as the top seed at the Barcelona Ladies Open, her poor form continued as she lost to Olga Govorstova 6–4 6–3 in her opening match. She represented Italy in Fed cup semi-finals against Czech Republic, losing both of her matches to Lucie Safarova 7–6 6–1 and to Petra Kvitova 6–4 7–6. Italy lost the tie 4–1. After passing her opening round in Stuttgart against Monica Niculescu, she lost in the 2nd round to no.3 seed Petra Kvitova 6–2 6–2. She also lost her opener in Madrid to Varvara Lepchenko and Rome to Ekaterina Makarova. However, Schiavone finally found some form going into the French Open, winning Strasbourg by defeating Sloane Stephens and Alize Cornet in the semi-finals and finals,respectively.
Schiavone reached the third round of French Open 2012, where she lost to Varvara Lepchenko 3–6, 6–3, 8–6.
At Wimbledon she reached the 4th round before losing to Petra Kvitova in three sets, but managed to reach the semifinals in doubles with partner Flavia Pennetta. Schaivone won her opening match at the Olympics and was then ousted in the second round by Vera Zvonareva.
Seeded 22nd, Schiavone faced off against American hopeful Sloane Stephens in the first round of the US Open and lost in straight sets. Schiavone the competed at the 2012 Toray Pan Pacific Open where she defeated Yaroslava Shvedova in the first round but then lost to Samantha Stosur. She then suffered three consecutive first round losses to Li Na at Beijing, to Olga Puchkova at Osaka and to Urszula Radwanska at Moscow.
After 2012, Schiavone has remained in the top 100. In 2013, she won the Marrakech Grand Prix, defeating Lourdes Dominguez Lino. Her best results in 2014 were semifinal appearances in Baku and Hong Kong, however she struggled with a right shoulder injury throughout the season. Her best result in 2015 came at the Diamond Games, where she qualified for the main draw and defeated World No. 10 Angelique Kerber to reach the quarterfinals. She would later reach the 3rd round at the French Open, winning a marathon match against fellow former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. However, she dropped out of the Top 100 following a first-round loss at the US Open to Yanina Wickmayer.