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Maria Sharapova wins French Open to complete career Grand Slam

A 6-3, 6-2 victory over Sara Errani makes Maria Sharapova the sixth woman in the Open era to win all four major tennis tournaments.

June 09, 2012|By Henry Chu
  • Maria Sharapova holds aloft the winner's trophy after beating Sara Errani in the French Open women's final on Saturday in Paris.
Maria Sharapova holds aloft the winner's trophy after beating Sara… (Christophe Karaba / Getty…)

PARIS -- The woman in black would not be denied. Both victory and a place in the history books lay at the end of her racquet, which she wielded like a deadly weapon.

With unerring aim, Maria Sharapova of Russia won the French Open on Saturday, capturing her first title on the crushed red clay and picking up the only major trophy lacking in her collection. Sharapova, 25, defeated Italy's Sara Errani, 6-3, 6-2, in a one-sided match on a blustery Paris afternoon.

The Russian's fourth major title made her the sixth female tennis player in the Open era to achieve a career Grand Slam, and she joins Serena Williams as the only other active woman currently on tour who can make the same boast. Sharapova has won each of the four majors once — Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and now the French.

"It's surreal. It's the most unique moment I've experienced in my career," said Sharapova, adding that it even eclipsed her unexpected victory at Wimbledon over Williams as a 17-year-old. "This was extremely special, and even more so."

She will rise from No. 2 to the top of the women's rankings when they are released next week.

Her destruction of Errani, a surprise finalist who was seeded No. 21, was as brutal as it was swift. In 89 minutes, Sharapova compiled 37 winners, enough by themselves to win nine of her 12 games. She fired so many shots onto the sidelines that the puffs of chalk they sent up might as well have been smoke.

Errani, just 10 days younger than her opponent but 91/2 inches shorter, was unable to impose her will either through strength or guile, both of which she'd exhibited in her previous matches despite her 5-foot-41/2 stature.

To reach her first Grand Slam final, Errani took out big servers and heavy hitters such as Samantha Stosur and Angelique Kerber with aggressive, cleverly placed groundstrokes that belied her self-description as a timid person by nature.

But in Saturday's contest to see who could establish herself as puppet master and yank the other woman around the court, Errani was up against an opponent on a roll.

Sharapova raced to a 4-0 lead in less than 15 minutes. Led by a strong serve, which she has worked hard to make consistent, the long-legged Russian rarely allowed rallies to extend past two or three strokes.

Her fearless play off both wings was epitomized by the game at 4-2 in which she smacked a backhand cross-court winner, an unreturnable forehand in the corner and then another winning backhand down the line in rapid succession. Errani gasped at the effort to defend against the relentless attack; many in the capacity crowd gasped in admiration at Sharapova's shots, sometimes loudly enough to drown out the high-decibel grunts of both women.

"With this [kind of] player, if you give her some games like this in the beginning, of course they are more relaxed," said Errani, who confessed to feeling some nerves on such a big, and novel, occasion. "I couldn't . . . play long points like I want to play."

In the second set, she showed more spirit and savvy, though she dug herself into a hole from the outset, losing her serve at love.

Down 4-1, Errani broke Sharapova for the second time in the match, besting her in a long side-to-side rally and crushing a service return to give the Russian a taste of her own medicine. And in the final game, Errani's craftiness finally burst into view with three delicate drop shots, two of which Sharapova, despite her improved court movement, couldn't reach in time.

But it came too late. A few minutes later, a netted backhand from the Italian on match point sent Sharapova onto her knees on the rust-colored dirt, her hands clasped to her face for several seconds before she flung them outward in celebration.

For Errani, the closest she came to nabbing the title occurred at an awkward but delightful moment during the trophy ceremony, when the announcer mistakenly identified Sharapova as the runner-up. Laughing, Errani pumped her fists in the air, illustrating the other word besides "timid" that she uses to describe herself: Happy.

For the real winner, the impressive victory Saturday represented another ascent to the pinnacle of the women's game after a shoulder injury, culminating in surgery, nearly ended it.

"I proved that no matter how many punches I took in my career, I've always gotten back up," Sharapova said. "I have a tremendous amount of belief and pride in what I do. I love my work."

Not enough, perhaps, to guarantee that she'll watch the men's final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on Sunday; Sharapova said she "might be on a plane tomorrow somewhere."

But she'll be back in the office within days, though exactly how many is under tense negotiation with her coach.

"I'm going for four. He's going for three, which is very typical," Sharapova said, smiling. "Then I'm back on the grass courts where I love to be. I can't wait to step on it and start working and getting ready for Wimbledon."

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