PARIS – With red clay still staining her shoes and socks, Maria Sharapova is already getting ready for the toughest transition in tennis.
Sharapova won her second French Open title in three years on Saturday, beating Simona Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 in the final at Roland Garros. It’s her fifth Grand Slam title overall and it comes 10 years after her first, which she won on the grass of Wimbledon.
“Doesn’t matter,” Sharapova said, already thinking ahead to the next few weeks. “Wimbledon is right around the corner, and that’s what I’ll be working for.”
Clay is the slowest surface on the tennis circuit, and the one that used to give Sharapova the most trouble. Before her shoulder surgery in 2008, she had won each of the other three major titles once, but she struggled on the clay in Paris, once famously referring to herself as a “cow on ice” when playing on the surface.
But now 27 and the owner of two French Open titles, those days are behind her. Sharapova is 20-1 over the last three years at Roland Garros, and has won 20 straight three-set matches on the surface.
None of that matters now, though, because it’s time to turn her attention to Wimbledon, the site of her first major title and the focus of her hopes for a sixth.
“I don’t care what my results were in the past. You start from a clean slate,” Sharapova said, looking ahead to the tournament that starts on June 23 at the All England Club in southwest London.
“That’s how I go into a Grand Slam. I don’t think that I’ve won it before, because when you have the mentality that you’ve won it, then it gets boring. You have to go out there hungry and want to compete for more.”
Although Sharapova won again in Paris this year, it was far from her best tennis. She still struggles with her serve, and had 12 double-faults against Halep. She had nine doubles in the semifinals, and eight in the quarterfinals.
But she still manages to find a way to win, even dropping sets like she did in each of her four last matches at Roland Garros.
“My mentality is that the match is not over after the first set, no matter if I win it or lose it,” Sharapova said. “If I’m doing good and if I’m playing the right way and I won the first set, I need to continue that. I cannot think too far ahead. The same way with being down and losing a set.”
Against Halep, Sharapova was two points from victory in the tiebreaker, but the fourth-seeded Romanian won four straight points to even the match.
That didn’t get Sharapova down.
“She’s an extraordinary competitor,” said 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici, Halep’s manager and the only Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam title. “I put her in the same category as (Rafael) Nadal or Serena Williams, players who give nothing away, who fight, who want it so much, and who play their best tennis when it matters.”
The next time it will matter this much will be at Wimbledon, and Sharapova will have a new set of shoes and socks at the ready. Just like 10 years ago.
“Even though you always remember those incredible moments of holding that trophy,” Sharapova said, “you got to try to erase that from your mind, because you got to create new ones.”