Tennis: Sharapova powers to her Grand Slam foursome

By Paul Newman

There was only one moment here yesterday when doubt crossed Maria Sharapova's face during her quest to win the French Open title for the first time - and it came moments after completing her 6-3 6-2 victory over Sara Errani.

"Would you please welcome the runner-up," the on-court announcer said at the presentation ceremony. "Maria Sharapova!"

For a nanosecond the thought seemed to cross Sharapova's mind that her victory had been a cruel dream, but Errani, an ironic smile on her face, rose to receive her trophy.

The world No 24, the lowest ranked player to reach the final here since the rankings were launched 37 years ago, never looked like stopping Sharapova's quest to become the 10th woman to win all four Grand Slam titles.

The Russian had too much power and too much experience of the big-match occasion for an opponent who had never previously gone beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam tournament. Four and a half years after winning her last Grand Slam title, Sharapova has completed her comeback in style, her first Roland Garros title complemented by her return to the No 1 position in world rankings.

The 25-year-old, who has topped the list of the world's highest-earning sportswomen since 2004, hardly needs tennis given her blossoming interests in fashion and business, but has worked tirelessly after spending nine months out of the game following shoulder surgery four years ago.

Just as impressively, she has learned to master clay, a surface which she once admitted made her feel like "a cow on ice".

Sharapova described this victory as "surreal, the most unique moment I've experienced in my career".

"When I won Wimbledon at 17, I thought that would be the most treasured moment of my career, but when I fell down on my knees today I realised that this was extremely special, and even more so."

"I love my work. I love playing tennis. I could have said: 'I don't need this. I have money. I have fame. I have victories. I have Grand Slams.' 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."

Now the Russian would love nothing more than to win her second Wimbledon title in four weekends' time. Asked if winning here might give her inspiration at the All England Club, Sharapova said: "What do you think? I'm going to retire? This is going to give me so much motivation."

Errani, who will jump 14 places to No 10, has proved herself a great battler over the last fortnight, but the Italian was all too often overpowered by the Russian, who belted 37 winners to her 12.

When Sharapova raced into a 4-0 lead there were fears of a one-sided contest, but Errani demonstrated her fighting spirit, recovering to 4-2 and saving two set points when serving at 2-5.

But Sharapova was not to be denied, converting her third set point in the next game by cracking a backhand winner down the line.

The second set followed a similar pattern. Sharapova again took the initiative, breaking serve in the opening game, before Errani demonstrated some resilience. Sharapova broke serve for the fifth and final time to serve for the match at 5-2, though once more her opponent refused to lie down.

A superb forehand winner by Sharapova when at full stretch set up the first match point, which she failed to convert by hitting a forehand long. An ace created a second, which Errani saved with an audacious drop shot.

Sharapova moved to a third match point with another ace and this time Errani's attempted drop shot fell into the net.

- Independent

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