Let’s Take a Moment to Appreciate Maria Sharapova

Mike Golic and Adnan Virk (filling in for Mike Greenberg) opened today’s show with a rundown of all the things that happened Saturday in the world of sports.

They spent plenty of time talking about the Eastern Conference Finals and the Pacquiao-Bradley decision and even the Belmont, but they somehow failed to mention that one of the world’s most famous athletes became only the tenth woman in history and only the seventh in the Open Era to complete tennis’s Grand Slam.

Maria Sharapova beat Italy’s Sara Errani 6-2, 6-3 on Saturday to win her first ever French Open title and complete a career Grand Slam. Today Sharapova takes over as the world’s top ranked player.

Maria Sharapova easily defeated Sara Errani Saturday to win the French Open and complete a career Grand Slam. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

 

Sharapova will probably never be in the women’s tennis GOAT conversation. She has 18 fewer Grand Slam titles than Steffi Graf, 14 fewer than Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, and 9 fewer than Serena Williams.

But Sharapova’s performance in Paris is worthy of celebration in light of what she has had to overcome and what her recent accomplishments mean for the sport of women’s tennis.

Sharapova made a name for herself as a seventeen-year-old when she won Wimbledon in 2004. The following year she became the WTA’s top-ranked player, and she won her second Slam, the U.S. Open, in 2006.

In 2007 a shoulder injury forced her to miss several tournaments. After winning the 2008 Australian Open and a couple other early season tournaments, her injury returned and her performance slipped.

An MRI revealed a rotator cuff tear. The injury kept Sharapova out of the Beijing Olympics and the 2008 U.S. Open. She had surgery in the fall of 2008 and was out for the first few months of the 2009 season.

She fell from #1 in the spring of 2008 to #126 in the spring of 2009.

(While she recovered from shoulder surgery, Sharapova took French classes. The fruits of her education were on display Saturday when she addressed the crowd at Roland Garros en français.)

There was no guarantee that Sharapova would ever fully recover from the surgery or that she would ever reclaim her spot among the world’s elite.

But after early exits at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2009 and an unremarkable 2010 season, Sharapova returned to form in 2011, advancing to the Wimbledon final and ending the season at #4.

She opened the 2012 season with a trip to the Aussie Open final, where she lost to Victoria Azarenka. Saturday she completed her comeback, playing in her first ever French Open final and winning it.

Over the past several years the top spot in the men’s game has been passed from Roger Federer to Rafael Nadal to Novak Djokovic, all three all-time greats.

Since the summer of 2008 the women’s #1 ranking has changed hands 14 times. Jelena Janković, Dinara Safina, and Caroline Wozniacki spent a combined 111 weeks in the top spot even though none of the three ever won a Slam.

Now the women’s game has a recognizable top player who has a career Slam on her résumé.



About Josh Tinley

Josh Tinley writes the Away From The Action column at Midwest Sports Fans, covering all aspects of sport aside from what actually happens on the field, court, or track. Josh grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from the University of Evansville and Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is the author of Kneeling in the End Zone: Spiritual Lessons From the World of Sports and the managing editor of LinC, a weekly curriculum for teens that explores the intersection of faith and culture. Josh lives outside Nashville with his wife, Ashlee, and children, Meyer (7), Resha Kate (5), and Malachi (3). He will not allow himself to die before the Evansville Purple Aces make another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Follow him on Twitter @joshtinley or send him an e-mail.

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