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Sharapova completes career Grand Slam; Murray fails to transition to grass courts — The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

King of Clay

From the outset, it appeared Lady Luck was with Nadal on his quest for an unprecedented seventh Roland Garros singles crown, and Rafa made plenty of his own “luck” as well. He didn’t just take advantage of being in the softest quarter of the draw – he was ruthless, dismantling the opposition with the barely loss of any games. He arrived at Sunday’s final brimming with confidence and played like a man who had no intention of losing four consecutive major finals to Djokovic. He suffocated his opponent with stellar defense and smacked winners of his own to go up two sets and a break. But then the tide turned. The heavy, wet conditions that initially favored Nadal became too wet, negating his topspin and allowing the Serb to begin mounting a comeback. Djokovic won eight straight games to take the third and go up a break in the fourth. Then fate swung back the other way with the continuing rain forcing play to be suspended, breaking Djokovic’s momentum and allowing a clearly rattled Nadal to regroup. Nadal began Monday afternoon the way he started the match, immediately getting the break back and keeping his nose out front. Eventually Djokovic buckled under the relentless pressure from Nadal, and Rafa sealed the deal in four sets. His seventh title at Roland Garros broke the tie he held with Borg, earning him the honor of becoming the undisputed King of Clay.

The Mint Collection

Even if Sharapova never wins another major, she’ll still go down as one of the greats. Having already secured a lone title at each of the other majors, she finally conquered the red clay of Roland Garros to complete the career Grand Slam – a feat only an elite few have managed to achieve. Sadly, her road to completing the career Grand Slam was a bit anti-climatic. The only potential competition she faced en route to victory was Petra Kvitova – a player who has struggled with injury, consistency, and had never been past the fourth round in the French capital. But Sharapova could only play who was in front of her, and all credit to the Russian for seizing a golden opportunity that may never come her way again. After the hard work she has put in post-shoulder surgery, it was a victory well deserved. Her first win since surgery also gets that monkey off her back. Couple that with her grass court résumé, and she’s arguably now the favorite for Wimbledon.

To Greener Pastures

With Wimbledon around the corner, all eyes will be on Djokovic to see how he responds to having his Grand Slam win streak snapped by Nadal just one match shy of a completing a non-calendar year Grand Slam. On the one hand, Roland Garros wasn’t a bad tournament for Djokovic. He had a challenging draw and still reached the final, but there’s no denying he wasn’t playing his best tennis. On two occasions he channeled Houdini to escape both Seppi and Tsonga, and he only won his semifinal match in straight sets thanks to an error-strewn performance by Federer. In the final, Djokovic looked more physically worse for wear than his Spanish opponent, and Nadal’s superb play gave him no breathing room. He looked like a man lacking in belief, and with the exception of a bright patch of play in the third, he was a shadow of the man who went on a tear in 2011. He even double faulted on three break points, the last one coming on match point. But I’d be reluctant to read too much into Djokovic’s overall French Open performance. The strained play was more likely due to the pressure of going for his fourth consecutive major rather than any overarching consistent drop in play. Still, he’s going to have to make a quick rebound on the grass, or else this loss could have a lingering effect and once again slightly alter the landscape at the top of the men’s game.

Moment in the Sun

In all the hullaballoo of Sharapova completing the career Grand Slam and the history on the line in the men’s final, poor Sara Errani somewhat got lost in the shuffle. She’s not a household name, and given her game, it’s difficult to see her consistently having a major impact on anything but the dirt – at least as far as her singles game is concerned. But she should be applauded for reaching her first (and most likely only) Grand Slam singles final. For her efforts, she earned a Top 10 singles ranking, and in the end, she didn’t leave Paris completely empty-handed, as she and partner Vinci won the women’s doubles. Those are all fond memories she’ll be able to cherish long after she hangs up the racquet.

Transitional Woes

Crossing the Channel into London, the top stars are finding it difficult to get their grass court footing, with many seeds and past champions falling early. That Hewitt lost to Karlovic, wasn’t entirely surprising, while Simon losing to Bolelli was a little more shocking. Mahut’s defeat of Murray should set off a few alarm bells. Mahut has a great game for grass, but Murray has become increasingly more prone to these types of losses and should have the British public nervous about his chances at SW 19. The man who might be stinging the most from an early round exit, however, is Roddick. He lost to journeyman Roger-Vasselin, and despite the Frenchman enjoying some good form as of late, Roddick’s grass court record makes this a very disappointing loss. He’s been struggling with injuries and confidence, and there’s a growing sense that if he doesn’t turn it around on the grass and following summer hard court season, 2012 may be the last we see of the American as a professional on the ATP World Tour. One thing is for certain – the grass court season has started off with more questions than answers.