By Melissa Boyd
Four years ago many wondered if she would ever play again and when she did, next to no one believed she could taste the sweetest victory of her career, the one that she earned on the famed red clay courts at Roland-Garros. In the space of three days, Maria Sharapova became World No. 1, captured her first French Open title, completed the career Grand Slam and wrote another page in the tennis history books.
People may have doubted Sharapova’s ability to win a Grand Slam after suffering a potentially career threatening shoulder injury in 2008, but Sharapova herself never stopped believing through all of the trials and tribulations of her comeback. It all came together for her on the clay in 2012, a surface on which she once famously described herself as being a “cow on ice”. Remarkably, Sharapova went undefeated on red clay this year, a streak which culminated with her fourth Grand Slam title in Paris following a 6-3, 6-2 over first time Major finalist Sara Errani of Italy.
“I had so many outs in my career. I could have said, I don’t need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams,” Sharapova said. “But, when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn’t there from the outside world, and you seem so small.”
The 25-year-old Russian is the tenth woman to complete the career Grand Slam joining the esteemed ranks of Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Shirley Fry, Steffi Graf, Doris Hart, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Serena Williams. She is the first player to accomplish the feat having won only one title at each of the four events. Sharapova’s performance at Roland-Garros will propel her to a whole new category of greatness, the one that is reserved for the best players of all-time.
Beyond the numbers and the significance of such a monumental triumph, it’s how Sharapova found her way back to the pinnacle of her sport that is perhaps most impressive. She overcame bad losses, poor form and a less than reliable serve. She has since improved her movement, rediscovered her lethal groundstrokes and most importantly, found her confidence. The Sharapova that won her first French Open title is a better player than the Sharapova who won her first three Grand Slam crowns.
Beneath Sharapova’s fame, fortune and steely exterior, lies the heart of a true champion and the exuberance of a young woman who is realizing her dreams. She is a fierce competitor who takes her tennis very seriously and when she fell to her knees and cried tears of joys into the French ‘terre battue’ after Errani’s shot went into the net on match point, she showed the world just how much the greatest moment of her tennis life meant to her.
“It’s the most incredible feeling. I don’t know what to say. I’m so happy. I’ve worked so hard for this,” Sharapova said. “It took a lot to get to this stage and even more to win it. There are so many tough days where you feel like giving up, but you don’t. It’s been such a journey to get to this stage again.”
By Melissa Boyd
While play on the women’s side during week one of Roland-Garros has not been of the highest quality, the drama that the ladies have produced over the first eight days in Paris has more than made up for it. For those just tuning in, it would appear as though a tornado has run through the draw, sparing just a handful of seeds along its destructive path.
When pre-tournament favourite Serena Williams was reduced to tears en route to a stunning first round defeat at the hands on an inspired Virginie Razzano, the upset flood gates were opened and several title favourites were shown the door earlier than anticipated. Most notably, a cranky World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka was knocked out on Sunday by Dominika Cibulkova to ensure that there will be a second different Grand Slam champion in 2012. The Slovakian exorcised some demons with the victory after failing to close her last two matches against Azarenka despite holding sizable leads on both occasions. Meanwhile, third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska mustered just three games in bowing out to 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
While the top eight seeds are all still in title contention on the men’s side, only four of the top eight ladies remain. The top half of the draw has been particularly decimated. Case and point, one of Cibulkova, Sara Errani, Angelqiue Kerber or Samantha Stosur will be a Roland-Garros finalist this year. Stosur played for the title in 2010 and won her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last summer. The other three are relatively inexperienced when it comes to the business end of Majors, but have quietly built impressive career resumes. With her ball striking, Cibulkova can contend with anyone, Errani has won three clay court titles this season alone and Kerber, the newest member of the WTA’s Top 10, reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open in 2011.
The bottom half of the women’s draw features the new tournament favourite as well as the reigning French Open and Wimbledon champions. A gaping hole was left in the Maria Sharapova’s section of the draw following Williams’ unexpected exit and Caroline Wozniacki’s third round loss to Kaia Kanepi. The Russian, who could take over as the new World No. 1 if she reaches the final in Paris, has been a woman on a mission through three rounds, dropping a mere five games as she attempts to complete her career Grand Slam. It remains to be seen whether the added pressure of being the favourite will get to Sharapova as she moves closer to the business end of the tournament, but so far she has been lights out. Na Li and Petra Kvitova are slated to meet in the quarter-finals and could provide some serious for opposition for Sharapova in the semifinals, especially considering her record against both players.
There are still many stories to be told as Roland-Garros approaches its climax and if week one of is any indication, prepare to brace for the unexpected.