Back to top, Sharapova meets Errani
PARIS - The Associated Press
Maria Sharapova of Russia returns to Klara Zakopalova of Czech Republic during their round of 16 match for the French Open tennis tournament. EPA photo
While Maria Sharapova, the superstar, was having her photo snapped and walking down red carpets, Maria Sharapova, the tennis player, was grinding through a much less glamorous pursuit.
She was slowly, steadily working on a comeback.
From the depths of the rankings after a debilitating injury, Sharapova reached the top of the tennis rankings again on June 7, courtesy of a 6-3, 6-3 semifinal victory over Petra Kvitova at Roland Garros that will officially make the Russian star the No. 1 player when the new list comes out next week.
With one more victory, in the final on June 9, Sharapova will reach two more milestones - her first French Open victory and a career Grand Slam.
Not bad for a player who was mired at 126th in the rankings three years ago after shoulder surgery that threatened to end her dominant days in tennis.
Errani made her first Grand Slam final with a 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 upset over U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur. It was a match with wild momentum shifts that ended with Errani playing the part of the seasoned veteran and the sixth-seeded Stosur looking as if she couldn’t handle the pressure.
“Maybe my problem always was that I couldn’t ... win with the strong players,” said Errani, who committed 21 unforced errors to 48 by her opponent. “But now I beat three in a row. I’m in the final in a Grand Slam. So I have to maybe try to think a bit different.” Entering Roland Garros, Errani was 0-28 against opponents in the top 10.
Now, she has back-to-back wins against No. 10 Angelique Kerber and No. 6 Stosur, along with victories over past French Open champions Ana Ivanovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Which means that on the same day Sharapova officially vaults to No. 1, Errani will reach the top 10 for the first time.
The Errani-Sharapova match will be a contrast in styles - the hard-hitting 6-foot-2 Russian going against 5-foot-4 Errani, whose serve usually spins in at between 70 and 80 mph.
Given their seedings, to say nothing of all the other numbers - Sharapova leads 26-5 in career titles and about $19 million to about $2.5 million in career prize money - the Russian is clearly the favorite.
But Sharapova, who held the No. 1 ranking for 17 weeks between 2005 and 2008, is well beyond taking anything for granted.
“I’ve played tennis since I was 4 years old,” she said. “I committed myself to this sport. I’ve always loved what I did. When it was taken away from me for a while, that’s when I realized how grateful I was and how lucky I was to be playing it.” Her match against Kvitova, who beat Sharapova in last year’s Wimbledon final, didn’t feature all that much drama. Kvitova struggled with the blustery wind more than her opponent did. And she couldn’t get a handle on Sharapova’s serve. The Russian placed 78 percent of her first serves in.
Petra Kvitova. REUTERS photo
When it was over, she lifted her palms into the air and looked skyward, celebrating everything that had just happened to her: The No. 1 ranking, her first final at Roland Garros, a chance to become only the 10th woman to win all four major tournaments.
Clay has never been Sharapova’s specialty, but as part of her comeback, she reinvented that part of her game and became a more patient, steady player. She is 17-1 on the surface this year.
“In a Roland Garros final for the first time, when I know many years ago, I’m sure, many people ... never considered me getting to this stage,” she said. “I’ve always believed and I have worked towards it, but I didn’t quite know if I was really ever physically quite ready for that.”