Italy’s Errani reaches championship match
She rotated her right shoulder, the one surgically repaired 3˝ years ago, and served a fault.
Her next try found the mark: a second-serve ace at 104 mph that landed in a corner. It was a fitting way to close out a 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 4-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the semifinals at Roland Garros on Thursday, a fitting way to announce that Sharapova, at 25, is once again at the height of her powers and at the top of her sport.
“It’s a long road back; it’s a long process. It’s a lot of days of frustration and uncertainty, not knowing if you’ll ever get there, not knowing how much you want it, not knowing whether (there) would be a moment like that for you again,” Sharapova said at her news conference, the WTA’s glass vase signifying her No. 1 status sitting inches away.
“So there’s definitely a lot of tough things you have to go through to get to this point. But when you get here, and you look back at the things that you did, and the work that you put in, and the toughest days that you can remember, it’s all really worth it.”
On Saturday, the second-seeded Russian will face 21st-seeded Sara Errani of Italy for the French Open title. It’s the only major tournament Sharapova hasn’t won; she can become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam.
“I was in a position a few years ago where I didn’t quite know if I would ever be here again on this stage, playing professionally. And not just at that, but at a level to get to No. 1 in the world and a first Roland Garros final for me,” Sharapova said. “So a very special day, no doubt.”
Playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal, Errani beat reigning U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur of Australia, 7-5,
Entering this tournament, Errani was 0-28 against women ranked in the top 10. But she beat No. 10 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals, then No. 6 Stosur on Thursday—and those upsets were preceded by victories over two past French Open champions, 2008’s Ana Ivanovic and 2009’s Svetlanta Kuznetsova.
Errani never made it past the third round at a major tournament until getting to the Australian Open quarterfinals in January, and attributes her surge this season to switching to a racket with a longer handle. At only 5-foot-4˝, she found she couldn’t counter the power that a lot of the game’s elite—and taller—players, generate from the baseline.
“My arms wouldn’t get longer,” Errani joked, “so I got a longer racket.”
In the men’s semifinals today, No. 1 Novak Djokovic faces No. 3 Roger Federer, and No. 2 Rafael Nadal plays No. 6 David Ferrer. Djokovic is attempting to become the first man in 43 years to win four consecutive Grand Slam titles; Nadal is bidding for a record seventh French Open title.
Sharapova, of course, would be thrilled to grab her first trophy at Roland Garros.
At the start of her career, success arrived so quickly and, it seemed, effortlessly. She won Wimbledon at age 17. Made it to No. 1 in the rankings at 18.
But the shoulder operation put a halt to all of that. She
didn’t play singles from August 2008 until the following May, when her ranking fell to 126th.
It took until her 10th Grand Slam tournament after surgery for Sharapova to get back to a major final, at Wimbledon last year, where she lost to Kvitova.
Sharapova is No. 1 for the first time in nearly four years.
And she gets another crack at a Grand Slam title, something she couldn’t be certain would happen.
“I have played tennis since I was 4 years old. I committed myself to this sport. I’ve always loved what I did,” Sharapova said. “When it was taken away from me for a while, that’s when I realized how grateful I was and how lucky I was to be playing it.”