French Open: Sharapova revels in grand slam achievement
Maria Sharapova completed her career grand slam with victory in the French Open final today and then declared: "This is just the start."
It was certainly a red letter day for the 25-year-old, who will climb back to number one in the world on Monday having added the Roland Garros trophy to the Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open crowns she already owns.
Her performance today, where she overpowered 21st seed Sara Errani 6-3 6-2, was also a complete transformation from the player who once described her movement on clay as like a cow on ice.
Sharapova said: "It's the most unique moment I've experienced in my career. I never thought I would have that.
"I thought that when I won Wimbledon at 17, 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."
The Russian's victory was all the more meaningful given the 10 months she spent out of the sport in 2008 and 2009 with a shoulder injury that put her career in jeopardy.
It has been a slow road back to the top for Sharapova but her form this year is comparable with anything before her surgery and her serve is now a strength again rather than a liability.
She said: "It's a long journey. It started from a very young age. 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 believe in my game. I think that's one of the reasons why I'm sitting here with my fourth one and winning Roland Garros, is because I always believed I could be better, I could be a better player, whether it was on clay, grass, cement, anything, I always strive to be better.
"And one per cent here, a few here, this is what I've always wanted to achieve. No matter how tough it was, no matter how many people didn't believe in me, didn't think that I could get to this point, I didn't care and I didn't listen.
"I always listened to my own voice, and it always told me that for some reason I'm meant to be better. I'm meant to succeed again. And I did."
Sharapova was a huge favourite, and the worry was, with the near-10 inch difference in height between the pair - Errani is less than 5ft 5in tall - that she would simply blow her opponent off court.
It was certainly that way in the opening four games but Errani is a feisty competitor and there was no danger of her capitulating in the way of some past grand slam finalists.
From 4-0 she won two games in a row and then saved two set points in the eighth game, although Sharapova served it out relatively comfortably.
The Italian beat Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Angelique Kerber and Sam Stosur to reach the final, a remarkable achievement, and especially so given she had won only one match at Roland Garros before this year.
She needed a good start to the second set but Sharapova had other ideas and promptly broke to love.
Errani was trying everything, coming to the net on a number of occasions and troubling Sharapova with drop shots, but after saving two match points she was forced to concede defeat.
The Russian dropped to her knees in celebration before dancing around the court, and she was able to laugh when the announcer mistakenly announced her as the runner-up, much to the delight of Errani.
The Italian was left to rue her slow start and felt Sharapova's relentless attacking had not allowed her to implement her tactics.
She said: "I started very bad, and with this player, if you give her some games like this in the beginning, of course she becomes more relaxed. It was very difficult for me to play.
"She played very well. She played at a very consistent level so it was very difficult for me to start the point the way I wanted to play the point.
"The first two or three balls of the point she played very well and her returns were very good."
The scoreline was harsh on Errani, who really pushed Sharapova in the second set especially but could not translate that into games.
She said of the experience: "I was nervous, of course. In the beginning the court was full, but that was very nice at the same time. I tried my best. It is very nice to play a final of a grand slam."
The Italian, who can still celebrate her first grand slam title after winning the women's doubles with Roberta Vinci yesterday, has made plenty of fans this fortnight and her never-say-die attitude ensured a majority of the crowd were willing her on.
"I was surprised but it was incredible," she said of the support. "It was very nice for me to hear that many people tried to push me up."