Maria Sharapova took her place among the greats of the game by becoming the tenth woman in history to win a career Grand Slam, and the sixth in the Open era. The soon-to-be world no.1 played excellent attacking tennis to down her valiant challenger, Sara Errani 6-3, 6-2.
After a nerveless and virtually faultless performance, full of clean hitting and daring attack, Sharapova fell to her knees as Errani netted on match point. The Russian held her head in her hands for a moment, before jumping to her feet and twirling with joy. After Wimbledon in 2004, the US Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008, she has now won all four majors - a career Grand Slam - and was so happy that she even spoke French (as well as Russian, Spanish and English!) in her post-match speech, to the delight of the fans who gave her the rousing reception she so richly deserves.
Playing her first Grand Slam final, Errani looked understandably nervous as she stepped out onto Philippe Chatrier Court. Her big challenge was to forget the occasion as early as possible, but unfortunately for her it took four games for that to happen. By that time Sharapova had made all her big-match experience tell, stepping into the court to ram huge winners, in particular on the forehand side and whenever Errani was on second service, racing into a 4-0 lead.
Martina Navratilova had identified Errani’s second service as a real weakness which Sharapova could exploit at every opportunity, and she certainly did, but to her credit the Italian made sure she kept these opportunities down to a minimum with a first-service percentage of 78% throughout the match. The Russian’s delivery is also the main chink in her armour though, and a pair of double faults in the fifth game gave the Italian her first break, enabling her to shed her nerves in the process.
Showing all the qualities that had brought her this far, Errani chased well behind the baseline, defending with all her might, keeping the ball in play and forcing Maria into one more shot on every rally. 4-1 became 4-2 and the No.21 seed was becoming a wholly different proposition. Chastened and clearly annoyed, Maria gathered herself. The new world no.1 has her own way of composing herself between points, returning to her mark like a scolded student, fists clenched, head down, buried in her own world. The result in the all-important seventh game was greater application on her service, longer and harder hitting and a crucial 5-2 lead.
Errani rallied brilliantly in the next game to save two set points and get to 3-5 but another pair of fabulous winners from 30-30 by Maria handed her the set, 6-3 in 36 minutes.
Sharapova too strong
Maria maintained this impetus and broke Errani to love at the start of the second set. Although the Italian was playing to her potential, fighting to deuce in the next game only to lose it and holding for 2-1, Sharapova was hitting too cleanly and finding the corners too often. Another hold and break took the Russian to within touching distance at 4-1.
With nothing to lose, the Italian showed heart and talent, taking the game to the second seed to get one break back to make it 4-2, but Maria held her nerve to break up again, finding the lines once more to lead 5-2. Serving for the match, the title and a career Grand Slam, Sharapova needed three match points as Errani refused to go quietly, but when the Italian netted the title was Maria’s.
“I was nervous, of course," said Errani afterwards. "I started very bad, with tension, and she played very well. It was very difficult for me to play her in the way I wanted to. It was better in the second set but still very hard. I couldn’t play long points in the way I wanted. I was surprised the way the crowd supported me and it was so nice hearing so many Italian voices. I just have to remember that it’s not normal for me to make a Grand Slam final. I don’t expect to make the final now in other tournaments.”
For her turn, Sharapova spoke as much of the future as of the day she completed her career Slam.
“It’s surreal, the most unique moment of my career," she said. "I never would have thought that. I thought winning Wimbledon at 17 would be the most treasured moment of my career. But when I fell on my knees today, I realised that this was even more special. It’s not over yet. I’m not sitting here and saying I’m done because I’m far from it. I have a lot more in me to achieve. I always strive to be better. No matter how many people told me I couldn’t get to this point, I always listened to my own voice telling me I’m meant to succeed again. And I did.”