Sharapova Into Final, Secures No.1 Return

Powerful, graceful, resilient - Maria Sharapova will be the World No.1 again come Monday.

Published June 07, 2012 12:00

Sharapova Into Final, Secures No.1 Return
Maria Sharapova

PARIS, France - There was a lot at stake, and Maria Sharapova stepped up to the plate. The Russian beat Petra Kvitova in the semifinals of the French Open on Thursday, a win that not only assured her of returning to the No.1 ranking next week, but that also propelled her into her first French Open final.

For both the match-up was a step up - Sharapova had not faced anyone higher than No.23 all tournament, Kvitova No.63 - but it was World No.2 Sharapova who was readier than World No.4 Kvitova on the day, breaking twice at love en route to taking the first set then winning three games in a row from 3-all in the second set to close out the much-anticipated semifinal showdown, 63 63.

"It was tough to play a great match because of the wind. It was about playing a solid match," Sharapova said. "Patience was very important today, because no matter how well you're playing, so many things equal out. If you're frustrated by a few mistakes, it can get you down. And I was facing a tough opponent who has given me a lot of trouble. So I was really happy I won in two sets today."

Sharapova will rise to No.1 on Monday, which will mark her 18th career week at the top spot - and first since the two weeks of this tournament in 2008.

"It's just amazing to be back in this position of being World No.1 again," she said. "Well, not yet - on Monday. But it's nice to know it happened again for me. 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 that, but at a level to get to No.1 in the world and a first Roland Garros final for me."

The 25-year-old Russian elaborated on shoulder surgery and the road back to the top. "It's a long road back, 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 will be a moment like that for you again.

"There's 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 you did and the work you put in and the toughest days you can remember, it's all really worth it.

"I've played tennis since I was four years old. I committed myself to this sport. I've always loved what I do. 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."

Having won the other three Slams, Sharapova is also now a win away from being the sixth woman in the Open Era with a career Slam (after Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams).

"To be in a Roland Garros final for the first time is a great achievement," she said. "I've always believed and have always worked towards it, but I didn't know if I was really ever quite ready for it physically. So to be at this stage here for the first time, 25 years old, is really just a great personal achievement."

Kvitova had her best French Open, having never been past the fourth round before this year, and the always-gracious Czech praised Sharapova.

"Maria played very well today. She has improved a lot, not just on clay," Kvitova said. "It was a different match today compared to my matches before. But I don't think I played badly - she plays very fast, and it's tough to return against her, so she really deserved to win, and she's No.1 in the world now.

"Next time I have to be in a different half than Maria."

The next Grand Slam is the one Kvitova burst into prominence at a year ago.

"I'll take some days off, then next week I'll start to prepare for the grass at home. Then I'll go to Eastbourne and straight after that, to Wimbledon."

Stacey Allaster, Chairman & CEO of the WTA, offered her congratulations for Sharapova. "Maria has once again proven what an extraordinary champion and fighter she is in regaining the No.1 ranking. Her will to win and ability to overcome obstacles has made her one of the game's great ambassadors, an inspirational icon and a one of the world's most popular athletes."

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