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  • French Open, Day 14

Superior Sharapova clinches place in history

ESPN staff
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Maria Sharapova became just the tenth woman to complete the career grand slam as she overwhelmed Sara Errani to win the French Open on Saturday.

Sharapova, who will return to world No. 1 for the first time in almost four years when the updated rankings are announced on Monday, clinched her fourth career slam title - and first at Roland Garros - with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Errani, who was playing in her maiden major final.

The 25-year-old Russian has made the final at three of the last four grand slams, but after losing at both Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open earlier this year she clinched her first win in one of the big four events since triumphing at Melbourne back in 2008.

Her completion of the career grand slam comes almost a decade after she started out on the path - she won Wimbledon in 2004 as a 17-year-old, before adding the US Open two years later.

"Thank you very much for your support," Sharapova said afterwards, who needed just shy of 90 minutes to clinch victory. "It's a magnificent moment for me.

"I'm really speechless. It's been such a journey for me. To win this one - even if it was my only one it would be just as special as winning my fourth."

Sharapova made her debut at Roland Garros as a 15-year-old back in 2002, but was appearing in her first final at the Paris championship after reaching the semi-finals twice previously. Errani, meanwhile, came into the contest have clinched the women's doubles title at the event a day earlier, but was playing in undoubtedly the biggest match of her singles career to date

As a result, it was perhaps understandable that the Italian, the 21st seed, seemed to be suffering from nerves in the opening stages of the first set, and was not helped as Sharapova's serve - the one questionable part of her formidable arsenal - appeared to be firing strongly from the off.

The Russian made a statement of intent with the opening point of the contest - booming down a serve and then whipping a backhand across court to win it - and comfortably moved into a 1-0 lead after using her power to her advantage.

It was then Errani's turn to serve, and the Italian paid the price for some uncertain early shotmaking as Sharapova burst out to a 40-15 advantage. She wasted the first break point opportunity by burying her shot into the net, but made the first decisive move of the match after her opponent fired a desperate backhand long following a long rally.

Sharapova clinched two further games - as Errani again struggled to cope with the extra bounce applied by her statuesque opponent - before the Italian finally got on the board, crucially breaking Sharapova to play her way into the contest. It was a matter of the Italian beginning to find lines and corners with some of her more aggressive shot selections, as she powered a forehand past Sharapova to take the second of the three break points she had created.

Sara Errani's effort could not be faulted © Getty Images
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From there the contest proved to be much more evenly matched, but Sharapova always had a little extra to offer. Errani saved two early set points with some resilient defensive tennis, but when it became Sharapova's turn to serve once again she made no mistake; thanks to a thumped backhand that was simply never going to be returned.

After losing the opening stanza 6-3, Errani served to start the second set needing to avoid falling into an early hole as she had done at the beginning of the contest. Unfortunately she was not able to manage that task - as Sharapova broke her to love to move just five perfect service games from that landmark victory she craved.

Both players exchanged holds of serve, before Errani threatened to burst back into the match as she created another break point opportunity. She was unable to take it, however, after flapping at the serve, ultimately meaning she was left with nothing to show from two Sharapova service games that she forced to deuce.

Those squandered openings looked likely to prove fatal but, as the prospect of victory neared, Sharapova began to tense up as Errani - facing the proverbial firing squad - opened up her arms and swung with more and more abandon. Breaks of serve were exchanged - first Sharapova, then Errani; then Sharapova again - as the scoreline moved to 6-3 5-2 in Sharapova's favour.

Serving for the contest, Sharapova was faced with an opponent swinging for the fences with every shot. The diminutive Italian saved two championship points thanks to a remarkable show of resolve as she powered the ball past her opponent, prolonging the agony for both parties - and the crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier.

A third championship point was engineered by Sharapova and this time she took it - sending her opponent to the corner with one final fierce forehand that Errani was unable to slice back over the net.

"I just want to congratulate Maria on a magnificent match," an upbeat Errani said at the presentation ceremony. "I don't feel like top 10 but I will be top 10 [after this]. It's incredible for me, I can't believe it."

It was a fitting victory for Sharapova, who lived up to her new world No. 1 ranking with a fine performance and subsequently delighted the watching crowd by thanking them for their support in French.

"It took me many years to get to this stage," she noted. "Eight years since my breakthrough slam to get to this stage. Thanks my mother and father. They're my rocks that keep me up, that keep me going through the tough times."

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