French Open: Sharapova Slam completes remarkable recovery
For eight years Maria Sharapova's most treasured tennis memory had been her first Grand Slam title, captured as a 17-year-old on the Centre Court at Wimbledon in 2004. That changed here on Saturday.
"I never thought that something would be sweeter than the first one I won," Sharapova said after beating Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in the French Open final. "But the second I fell to my knees, I felt something extremely special. I felt like I really deserve this one because I've worked so hard."
Sharapova's victory secured her first title at Roland Garros, elevated her to a place in history alongside nine other women who have won all four Grand Slam titles, and underlined her return to the top of the world rankings. More than that, however, the win completed a long and often painful journey following the shoulder surgery the 25-year-old Russian underwent four years ago.
Sitting in a small room beneath Court Philippe Chatrier just hours after her triumph, Sharapova explained how that journey had begun after she had struggled to beat Marta Domachowska, a journeywoman Pole, in a tournament in Montreal in the summer of 2008.
"I was having a few problems with the shoulder about four months before the surgery," Sharapova recalled. "Everyone was just telling me: 'You have inflammation, tendonitis'. But nothing was really going away, despite so much treatment and anti-inflammatories."
An initial MRI scan had failed to pick up the problem earlier in the year, but a second revealed two tears in her right shoulder.
Sharapova soon had surgery and did not play another singles match for nearly 10 months.
After a failed comeback playing a doubles match in Indian Wells, a bruised bone was diagnosed.
"Bone bruises take a long time to heal and it was a pretty big one," she said.
"It was stop and go, stop and go. Everyone had great expectations and they would say: 'Okay, in a week or two, you'll be able to go and serve and have no pain'. I would go and serve and I'd be clenching my teeth. I was grumpy and I had my tough days and I yelled at people. But I never, never put my head down."
Already the world's highest-earning sportswoman, Sharapova had no need to return to competition but retained her passion for a sport she had been playing since the age of four.
"I love competing," she said. "There's nothing in the world that gives you that adrenalin feel, just being in the moment of a match. There's nothing that I've done in my life that has given me that experience, being on the court." (© Independent News Service)
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.