French Open 2011: Maria Sharapova Nears Her Goal

Gregory LanzenbergCorrespondent IJune 1, 2011

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 01:  Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a forehand during the women's singles quarterfinal match between Maria Sharapova of Russia and Andrea Petkovic of Germany on day eleven of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 1, 2011 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

She has been waiting for this moment for over three years! For the first time since the Australian Open in 2008, No. 7 seed Maria Sharapova has reached the last four of a Grand Slam tournament.

Today, in the quarterfinals of the French Open, the Russian player soundly beat Andrea Petkovic 6-0, 6-3 (1'30"). This was Sharapova’s 30th victory on clay at the Porte d’Auteuil.

Since the start of the tournament, only the young Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia has managed to steal a set from the Russian, in the second round. The 17-year-old Lyon native stormed to a 6-3, 4-1 lead before crumbling, unable to win another game. Sharapova finally clinched the match 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.

This is the second time that towering Maria (6’2”) has reached the semifinals at Roland-Garros. In 2007, her first semifinal appearance at the Porte d’Auteuil, she was ousted by Ana Ivanovic.

If she wins her semifinal on Thursday, she will play in her first-ever French Open final, her fifth Grand Slam final.

Roland-Garros is in fact the only Grand Slam tournament missing in the Nyagan native’s collection. At the age of 24, Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004 (her first title in the majors), the US Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008. She also reached—and lost—the final at the 2007 Australian Open the year before her title there.

Should she win in Paris, Sharapova, who has been coached by Thomas Hogstedt since the beginning of the year, would become the 10th woman to have won all four Grand Slam tournaments after Maureen Connolly (Grand Slam in 1970), Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf (Grand Slam in 1988) and Serena Williams.

Sharapova has always admitted having had issues with the clay.  Therefore, we can only imagine the significance of winning Roland-Garros at a time when women's tennis is in a quest for a year-round leader.

Given what she had to overcome over the past couple of years after a shoulder injury, which could have ended her career, to win in Paris would be as tremendous as 1999 when Andre Agassi completed his career Grand Slam by winning the clay-court major.

The ones who hate the Russian will back up the fact that she had an easy draw, which is wrong since she had to come back from a set and two breaks in the second round against French qualifier Caroline Garcia.

On Wednesday, Sharapova had to meet German rising star Andrea Petkovic, a player who crushed her at the Australian Open earlier this year. Therefore, today's match was even on paper.

The result of the day was amazing for the former World No. 1, who played her best Grand Slam match since winning in Australia.

In fact, the No. 7 seed managed to get rid of the hurdle of playing on the dirt.

The sunny and warm conditions made the surface quicker than usual; therefore, she could play as if she were on a hard court. Also—and this is maybe the most amazing statistic—the 24-year-old managed to lead and win most of the extended rallies, which was not the case previously.

It's true to admit the tournament is far from over but to see Sharapova winning Roland-Garros could be a dream come true for many very soon.

On Thursday, Sharapova will meet China's Na Li with a decent chance of winning and then the winner between last year's champion Francesca Schiavone and local favorite Marion Bartoli.

Sharapova has a good record against Na Li—including a win over the Australian Open runner-up at Roland-Garros back in 2009—and against Schiavone or Bartoli, only nerves could prevent the 2004 Wimbledon champion from winning the four Grand Slams.