As the French Open came to a close this past weekend, Nadal simply went through the motions as Sharapova experienced a new type of victory.
When Maria Sharapova had right shoulder surgery in 2008 after winning the Australian Open earlier in the year, the sport’s second most famous female player seemed to have an insurmountable obstacle to overcome in order to complete her career Grand Slam. The past few years since this surgery, the firepower behind her swing seemed to be nonexistent and the likelihood of seeing the “old” Sharapova seemed more and more unlikely with each successive tournament.
Saturday provided Sharapova with the opportunity to complete this mission, and it was easily accomplished.
With a much stronger shoulder and confident swing, Sharapova effectively implemented a familiar piercing serve to take a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Sara Errani to capture her first French Open title, completing her career Grand Slam. Only nine other women have ever been able to do this.
It became apparent as this game went along that the 5-foot-4 1/2 Errani could not stand up to the pressure of her first Grand Slam single compared to Sharapova’s seventh. The young Italian only produced 12 winners as she seemed uncomfortable playing against an opponent 10 inches taller than her. In the end, Sharapova had the superior strength and experience that gave her the seemingly undemanding championship victory.
Even though Sharapova has plenty of good years ahead of her at the young age of 25, this is the cherry on top of her career so far. It only took 17 years of her life before she was placed in the media spotlight after winning Wimbledon in 2004. She quickly thereafter won the U.S. Open (19) and the Australian Open (20). But then her shoulder surgery took her out of the game and out of relevancy as she dropped all the way to 126th.
The clay has become home for Sharapova as she been dominant every time she steps onto this tough-to-move-around-in red or blue clay. She holds a record of 16-0 on the year when playing on clay.
|2006||Australian Open||Roger Federer (7)||Amelie Mauresmo|
|French Open||Rafael Nadal (2)||Justin Henin (5)|
|Wimbledon||Roger Federer (8)||Amelie Mauresmo (2)|
|U.S. Open||Roger Federer (9)||Maria Sharapova (2)|
|2007||Australian Open||Roger Federer (10)||Serena Williams (8)|
|French Open||Rafael Nadal (3)||Justin Henin (6)|
|Wimbledon||Roger Federer (11)||Venus Williams (6)|
|U.S. Open||Roger Federer (12)||Justin Henin (7)|
|2008||Australian Open||Novak Djokovic||Maria Sharapova (3)|
|French Open||Rafael Nadal (4)||Ana Ivanovic|
|Wimbledon||Rafael Nadal (5)||Venus Williams (7)|
|U.S. Open||Roger Federer (13)||Serena Williams (9)|
|2009||Australian Open||Rafael Nadal (6)||Serena Williams (10)|
|French Open||Roger Federer (14)||Svetlana Kuznetsova (2)|
|Wimbledon||Roger Federer (15)||Serena Williams (11)|
|U.S. Open||Juan Marin Del Potro||Kim Clijsters (2)|
|2010||Australian Open||Roger Federer (16)||Serena Williams (12)|
|French Open||Rafael Nadal (7)||Francesca Schiavone|
|Wimbledon||Rafael Nadal (8)||Serena Williams (13)|
|U.S. Open||Rafael Nadal (9)||Kim Clijsters (3)|
|2011||Australian Open||Novak Djokovic (2)||Kim Clijsters (4)|
|French Open||Rafael Nadal (10)||Li Na|
|Wimbledon||Novak Djokovic (3)||Petra Kvitova|
|U.S. Open||Novak Djokovic (4)||Samantha Stosur|
|2012||Australian Open||Novak Djokovic (5)||Victoria Azarenka|
|French Open||Rafael Nadal (11)||Maria Sharapova (4)|
|4 Different Men||13 Different Women|
Clearly, the women’s side of this sport has gone through a flux of winners with no established upper tier class of players. There was one time when Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Justin Henin had a grasp of their sport and could be found near the end of every Grand Slam tournament. However, one of these players has retired, another is playing like she is 51 instead of 31 and the other just got knocked out of the first round.
Sharapova has no control over her competition from year to year; however, because of the lack of reliable competition from tournament to tournament, this career Grand Slam has to be considered the most underwhelming one of all time. Not only did she take the most time (nine years) out of both the men’s and women’s side to win all four Grand Slams, she also came out on top of this last Grand Slam during a time when the previous four major tournaments resulted in four straight women winning their first Grand Slam. That’s inconsistency.
Winning only a single title from each tournament, it is as if Sharapova has found a way to scrape by in order to have this milestone on her resume. Furthermore, none of these tournaments were won in the same year or in the following year. Of the 17 men and women to take home four different Grand Slam trophies, only Sharapova and Shirley Fry Irvin failed to win more than those four times. Yes, Sharapova still has time. If she can find a way to play at a high level all year unlike every other professional women’s tennis player currently out there, all of this will be moot.
At this point in time, though, with the lack of competition along with her limited victories on the big stage, Sharapova winning Saturday and completing her career Grand Slam should receive a golf clap.
Thanks to some rain that fell at the most opportune time for a certain Spaniard, Rafael Nadal bit yet another Musketeers’ Trophy as he defeated Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.
The No. 1 ranked player in the world had already strung together two straight matches earlier in the tournament when he came back from a 2-0 deficit. Djokovic clearly has the mental capability to put his struggles behind him and defeat his opponent under any circumstances. With the chance to complete his own career Grand Slam by winning four consecutive tournaments, he clearly wanted this.
Sunday’s match provided him with yet another 2-0 deficit as Nadal looked to be on a cakewalk toward his record-breaking seventh French Open title. Yet, the third set completely changed the feel of this game as Nadal’s play on the baseline stopped working to his advantage and Djokovic began outhitting Nadal on seemingly every play. Djokovic quickly took the third set and broke Nadal immediately to take a 2-0 4th set lead. If the Djoker had been able to capture this set and leave the championship in the hands of a 5th set, he would have the momentum and know-how to finish off his powerful opponent.
But the “tennis gods” began to cry since they did not know what to do with themselves in this situation. Since his professional career started in 2003, Nadal has never lost this clay court tournament other than the three times he had to drop out or failed to play at his normal level due to an injury. After these tears began to really come down, the match was postponed to the next day.
Just as Djokovic looked like a different player in the third set and at the start of the fourth set, Nadal came out Monday with a new focus that allowed him to jump right back into the set as he won the next two games. When Nadal has his feet sunk into the clay he played on growing up, his forehand seems indomitable with no chance of slowing down.
Djokovic seems to currently have a level of play that puts him above Nadal in terms of who is the better tennis player. However, he was not simply playing against the second best player in the world. He was playing against Rafa – the man that has now clearly established himself as the best clay court athlete to ever play the game as he passed Bjorn Borg for most men’s French Open titles. Nadal took that fourth set and was on his way to gnawing on more metal.
It isn’t a coincidence that seven of Nadal’s 11 Grand Slam titles come from the French Open. The Spaniard’s style of forceful play and placement five feet behind the baseline fit excellently in Paris. The clay courts slow down all movement of the tennis ball, allowing Nadal to sit back and play his physical game to perfection. No other player will ever have an advantage like Nadal when it comes to playing on one court over to another.
If 16-time Grand Slam champ Roger Federer was unable to take down Nadal during his own prime when he seemed to hit every angle correctly and win every match he played, Djokovic will clearly need the ball to bounce his way if he ever wants to take down the King of Clay that’s only one year older than him. Once Wimbledon begins in a few weeks, these two (and possibly Federer) will undoubtedly provide some theatrical and captivating tennis.
Even though Sharapova and Nadal are clearly at different points in their career and achieved their respective milestone against different levels of opponents, they both love to grunt, scream and yell when they hit the tennis ball. This past weekend, they both shouted just enough to become French Open champions.
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