Few observers gave Maria Sharapova much of a chance to topple Serena Williams in the French Open final on Saturday, and while Serena ultimately reigned supreme, Sharapova showed the heart of a champion and will be a big-time threat throughout the remainder of the year.
Williams entered the French Open final as the odds-on favorite due to her dominant play as of late, and she didn't disappoint as she captured her second career title on the famous Roland Garros clay. It was her first French Open title since 2002 as she defeated Sharapova by a score of 6-4, 6-4 in straight sets, according to Roland Garros on Twitter.
It may not seem like a big accomplishment for Sharapova on the surface since she was the defending French Open champion and was unable to capture at least a set against Serena. However, considering how badly Williams has owned her over the years, Sharapova turned in an inspiring performance.
Taking eight games against Serena in a match with the way that she is playing is nothing to sneeze at. Svetlana Kuznetsova managed to push Williams to a decisive third set in the quarterfinals, but Serena refocused after that match and absolutely blasted Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1 in the semis, so Sharapova knew what she was up against.
Sharapova was 2-13 against Serena during her career entering Saturday's match, and she exited with a career mark of 2-14, according to WTATennis.com. Sharapova hasn't beaten Williams since she recorded consecutive victories against her back in 2004. She took out the American in the Wimbledon final and then beat her in the Tour Championships final in Los Angeles soon after. Serena has won 13 straight since then, though, and has exerted her dominance.
With that said, Sharapova's effort on Saturday wasn't lost on Williams. There may not be a single woman in the world who can challenge Serena at this point, but she applauded Sharapova's will and desire, according to Roland Garros.
Sharapova actually held a 3-0 lead over Williams in the first set as she earned an early break, but Williams was able to regain her form quickly and storm back. Sharapova is easily one of the toughest female players from a mental standpoint, so a player truly has to be competing at an elite level to come back from a 3-0 Sharapova lead.
Perhaps as important as Sharapova's performance on the court was the way she acted following the match. She was obviously disappointed as she aims to win every tournament she enters, but she accepted defeat graciously and even had some friendly moments with Serena as they bantered in French after accepting their trophies as captured by Roland Garros:
Sharapova had cracked a few smiles following her loss, but there is no doubt that it was tearing her up inside. Sharapova has already cemented herself as one of the all-time greats as she possesses the career Slam, but it seems like she always has to prove herself due to the presence of Serena.
The Russian star thanked the Paris faithful on Twitter following her loss and said that she can't wait until next year, but she has a lot of work to do during the remainder of this season first.
Wimbledon and the U.S. Open are the two big tournaments left on the schedule, so Sharapova will have a couple of chances to gain redemption. Williams will obviously be heavily favored in both tournaments as she has won three out of the past four Grand Slams, but she's probably due for a slip-up at some point.
In order to win either Wimbledon or the U.S. Open, Sharapova will most likely have to go through Serena. The numbers suggest that it is a near impossibility, but Sharapova appeared to have belief throughout Saturday's match and she won't let her 2-14 career record against Williams bother her moving forward.
Sharapova played much better in the French Open final than most will probably give her credit for and she isn't going to fold moving forward. Sharapova will continue to be Serena's main competition and she may very well get one over on Williams before the year comes to an end.
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