Maria Sharapova was two points away from a straight-set victory today in Paris at the 2014 French Open. Her opponent, Simona Halep of Romania playing in her first Grand Slam final match, was not ready to cede victory. She forced a third set after winning the second in a tie-breaker.
Ultimately Sharapova prevailed 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 for yet another three-set win, something that has become a trademark of hers on the red clay. Sharapova got her second French Open title (first was 2012), reached the final for the third year in a row, and nabbled her fifth Grand Slam win in a career that makes her one of the old ladies on the women's tour at the age of 27.
Once a player who hated clay courts and famously described feeling like a "cow on ice" as she tried to master the art of sliding on the clay surface towards the ball, she has more Grand Slams on clay than hard courts or grass. How do you explain that? Hard work, as champion boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr. regularly chants during workouts.
It was her grit and mental toughness that pulled her out of a slump today when she lost focus and dropped the second set, then trade service breaks with Halep during the third. It's been 10 years since she outplayed Serena Williams at Wimbledon for her first tennis Grand Slam trophy and in between, she had to reconstruct her game after the same was done to her shoulder.
After shoulder surgery that kept her off the tour for a long period of time, she returned in 2009 as a struggling player whose serve had been radically changed to protect that shoulder. Double-faulting became a regular occurrence for Sharapova and her play was inconsistent. At that point, she could have hung it all up, after winning three Grand Slams (Wimbledon '04, U.S. Open '06, Aussie Open '08) and having risen to #1 in the world.
She is the richest, by far, female pro athlete thanks to her prize money, big endorsements and solid business ventures, but that isn't what drives Maria. The push to be the best was not a flame yet extinguished within her and Sharapova worked her way back to that #1 spot and a French Open championship to boot. Currently ranked #4 in the world, Maria heads into the preparation for Wimbledon and then the U.S. summer hard court season that ends with the U.S. Open this August.