When Sharapova returned from career-threatening shoulder surgery in 2009, most had felt that she could not recapture the #1 ranking. On a windswept Thursday afternoon in Paris, she did. In 2009, most had felt that she could not win another major. On a sunless Saturday afternoon in Paris, she did that too.
Probably we should have realized what would happen when Sharapova toppled onto the clay midway through her battle with Zakopalova and watched helplessly as her shot—trickled across the net for an unreachable winner. Well before that kiss from fate, though, she received a boon as great as Federer did when Soderling upset Nadal in 2009. With Serena banished from Paris, Sharapova then shouldered the same pressure that the Swiss superstar did for the rest of the fortnight. As contender after contender tumbled to their demise, she surely realized that never again would such an opportunity arise to enshrine herself in tennis history. Responding to the situation with her fabled courage, Sharapova lost six or fewer games in six of her seven matches and reached 5-5 in just one of fifteen sets. She not only ravaged the serves of her opponents to win nearly two-thirds of her return games but closed out key service games with massive deliveries. As she looks back on this improbable clay season, which featured three titles and no losses on the red dirt, she may identify her decision to play the Stuttgart tournament as one of the most pivotal in her career. As we look back on her historic fortnight, which recaptured the #1 ranking as well as the Roland Garros title, a series of images float through our minds. Among them is the end of her semifinal against Kvitova, when she stood tall, straight, and narrow with her arms thrust toward the sky after a second-serve ace crashed through the court.
But the image that we will remember the longest comes from after the last ball that she struck, when Sharapova sat alone in an empty locker room with the trophy that had eluded her for so long. Her eyes closed and head titled upwards, she must have reflected on the most meaningful triumph of her career, the culmination of an odyssey in which few others than she had believed. Valedictorian