Maria Sharapova, very possibly the most famous women’s tennis player in the world, has lined up her first final at the French Open and also managed to claw her way back to the number 1 spot with her defeat of reigning Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova. The woman who’ll be facing her at the other side of the net, however, couldn’t be more different. Sara Errani, who until the start of this year was still ranked in the 40s, will also be competing in her first French Open final, but this opportunity is a fulfilment of a life-long dream for the relatively unknown Italian player.
Both players are 25 years of age, and are making their first finals appearances on the Centre Court in Paris, but that is where the similarities end. Sharapova has so far had the kind of career that reads like a Hollywood film scenario – Wimbledon Championships at 17, world number 1 ranking the following year, 3 Grand Slam titles and a reported $25 million a year in prize winnings and endorsements. Errani, on the other hand, was ranked at 359th in 2005 (the year Sharapova was number 1) and has since doggedly battled her way to the top 40s, where she remained for four years until a change in rackets earlier this year also changed her fortunes. She romped through numerous clay-court tournaments at the start of this season, and managed to collect titles in Acapulco, Barcelona and Budapest.
Now in the running for her first Grand Slam title shot, the words that Errani kept repeating as she won her semi final bout against Kvitova summed up her sheer joy and wonderment at achieving such a feat – “I can’t believe it…..it’s incredible for me, I didn’t expect it, and I’m here. So I don’t know what to say.”
Although Sharapova brings with her all the trappings that her extraordinary career has brought her, she hasn’t had an easy ride back up to the top. Having spent 10 months out of the game following the extensive surgery she received on her shoulder in October 2010, she has managed to accrue another seven singles titles and repaired her ranking when she dropped to 126th in the world following her medical layoffs. With the Roland Garros trophy being the only one missing from her current collection, both Sharapova and Errani are at pivotal points in their career ensuring that this match will be one of the most anticipated of the season.