Sharapova Fights to Number One at French Open
June 9, 2012 · Print This Article
by: Lyra Pappin
Does a dream fade when you’ve achieved it a few times over? If Maria Sharapova’s reaction to becoming world number one for the fifth time in her career is any indication – no. Celebrating her straight sets semi-final victory over Petra Kvitova, Sharapova threw her arms straight into the air, yanked them down with her patented fist clench, and bopped her head with a giddy, nerdy smile.
Sure, she looked thrilled to win. She also looked like a girl whose dad just told her she’s getting that pony after all.
The dichotomy between Sharapova’s results as a tested champion and her image as a perfectionist princess makes it hard to get behind the Russian twenty-five year old, whose material success hasn’t always hinged on her court play, though she could also never be mistaken for a girl looking for an easy pass. In fact, for all her inconsistent play, idiosyncratic quirks, (and trying not to mention, the shrieks), Sharapova might be the only woman around who can re-establish the relevance of women’s tennis.
After being relegated to the 129 seed in 2009 after growth spurts and surgeries set her back, Sharapova’s determination to return to the top is a welcome reprieve in this lackluster era of women’s tennis, which has been harshly criticized, with not just good, but endless reason. There are no rivalries, no consistent results, and when the next biggest name in women’s tennis, Serena Williams, coldly states that she “never really liked sports”, not much hope either.
Sharapova, to her credit, is less interested in proving her femininity and more compelled to fight claims that she’s just the hot blonde chick with a penchant for short skirts. When Sharapova first began attracting attention as the latest lanky “ova” out of Russia, the comparisons to compatriot Anna Kournikova were unavoidable. Sixteen-year-old Sharapova’s response? “Thanks, but no. I want to be a winner.”
It’s the kind of bold answer a teenager can easily give, but what’s proven to be more impressive is not Sharapova’s cockiness, but her sustained desire to win and make good on her cool confidence; she wants to excel and is audaciously unapologetic for it. Unlike a fellow top endorsement earner LeBron James, she’s no fourth quarter ghost who shies away from buzzer beating moments, instead, she embraces them.
Also unlike LeBron, what’s holding Sharapova back isn’t the gritty gut of a champion, it’s been injuries and limitations of talent. She’s gifted, but she doesn’t have the same court coverage as Kim Clijsters or Martina Hingis, or the complete game physicality of the Williams’ sisters. But whatever she lacks in pure athleticism, there’s no substitute for her will.
Saturday`s final against unlikely opponent Sara Errani of Italy gives Sharapova a chance to consolidate her break back into the tennis elite. With a win, Sharapova could also solidify her place in history among the best of all time, becoming only the 10th woman to achieve the Career Grand Slam, winning each major title at least once during her career.
Out of all the women who have come and gone through the Roland-Garros grind over the past two weeks, it’s ironic that Sharapova, the one with the least to gain, is also the one who wants it the most.
On Saturday afternoon in Paris as she looks to make history and become the first Russian woman to win all four slams, if there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind why she’s there or what it means to her, forget it. Don’t expect Sharapova to be content with a ranking in number only; she’s no Wozniacki, Safina or Jankovic, she’s Maria Sharapova and she doesn’t just want to win, she needs to win.
And now, in the unlikeliest of all places, it’s on the unpredictable, unforgiving Roland-Garros clay where Sharapova will have to prove that she has tempered the swagger of her youth and transformed herself into a number one that tennis can be proud of – a number one who might actually be here to stay.
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