Already a big name on the red carpet, Maria Sharapova is now a champion on the red clay, too.
The Russian star won the French Open on Saturday, defeating Sara Errani 6-3, 6-2 in the final at Roland Garros to complete the career Grand Slam.
Second-seeded Sharapova, who was guaranteed of moving to No. 1 in the world regardless of the result, jumped to a quick 4-0 lead against the 21st-seeded Errani, who was in her first Grand Slam final.
But Errani battled back on a cool, blustery day in Paris, turning what looked like a blowout into an 89-minute endurance contest, filled with long rallies that forced Sharapova to find another gear. Eventually, Sharapova’s bigger serve and bigger groundstrokes wore down Errani, who at 5-foot-4 1/2 stands 9 1/2 inches shorter than her opponent.
When Errani netted a short backhand on the third match point, Sharapova dropped gingerly to her knees and buried her head in her hands, then reached back and looked heavenward — a long, hard journey back to the top finally capped with the only major title that had eluded her.
Sharapova added this year’s French Open title to championships at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 to become only the 10th woman to win all four major tournaments.
She won on the red clay of Roland Garros about three years after dropping as low as 126th in the rankings after shoulder surgery that threatened her career. She rededicated herself to the game and made a special effort to improve on clay, where she improved to 18-1 in matches this year.
Along with hoisting the French Open trophy for the first time, she’ll be back at No. 1 on Monday for the first time since June 2008.
The lopsided score in the final wasn’t all that unexpected, given the size, experience and power advantage Sharapova brought to the first meeting between the two. But really, the score didn’t tell the whole story.
Errani, who will move into the top 10 for the first time Monday, struck a victory for any athlete, who ever walked onto a court or field, looked at an opponent towering over them by nearly a foot and said, ”Hey, maybe I can do this.”
Despite spinning serves in at 70-80 mph, while Sharapova was topping out in the 115 mph range, Errani played Sharapova toe-to-toe for the better part of the hour and a half, especially after she overcame the jitters in the shaky opening games.
Eventually, Sharapova’s power game won out but Errani fought to the bitter end — showing the courage to hit two drop shots that won points in the final game, each of them sending Sharapova scrambling toward the net, only to arrive a split second late.