Parlez-vous Francais? Sharapova says oui
When a painful shoulder stopped Maria Sharapova from doing what she does best, she could have chosen a hundred different things to keep her buzzing mind occupied.
She could have followed Venus Williams in doing a course in interior design, or set up a fashion label like Serena Williams, or even agreed to participate in some frivolous celebrity reality shows like Martina Navratilova.
Instead, the Russian multi-millionaire headed straight to French school and her single-minded dedication paid off on Saturday as she charmed the cheering Roland Garros crowd by speaking to them in their own language after holding aloft the Suzanne Lenglen Cup for the first time.
“When I first hurt my shoulder and I knew that I wouldn’t probably be playing for about two or three months, for some reason the first thing I did was I found a French school close to my house,” Sharapova, who underwent shoulder surgery in August 2008, said after dispatching Italy’s Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in the French Open final.
“I did private lessons every single day for three months. I don’t know why, but everyone thought I was completely crazy because there were so many other things I could have done.
“But it was really the first thing on my mind when I heard about my injury was that I was going to learn a language. I chose French.”
Her decision to learn French might have amounted to very little. No doubt it would have come in handy when she wanted to order her favourite “escargots” in a Parisian restaurant or helped her to indulge in her favourite eavesdropping pastime on the Champs Elysees.
But like most things she does, whether it is practising for hours, days, months just to improve a shot by “one percent” - she always has the end game in sight.
“I have a lot more in me to achieve. I believe in my game,” Sharapova said after becoming the 10th woman to join the career grand slam club.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m sitting here with my fourth (major) and winning Roland Garros. I always believed I could be a better player, whether it was on clay, whether it was on grass, whether it was on cement, anything, I always strive to be better.
“One percent here, a few here, this is what I’ve always wanted to achieve. No matter how tough it was, no matter how many people didn’t believe in me, didn’t think that I could get to this point, I didn’t care and I didn’t listen.
“I always listened to my own voice and it always told me that for some reason I’m meant to be better.”
Her inner voice told her that her failing shoulder would work again.
Her inner voice told her she would play top level tennis again.
Her inner voice told her she would be a grand slam champion again.
Her inner voice told her she would be number one again.
So what if everyone thought she was deluded.
“I proved that no matter how many punches I took in my career, I’ve always gotten back up. I never made excuses. I always relied on my own talent,” said Sharapova, who was having the last laugh on Saturday by hauling herself back from 126 in May 2009 to the top of the rankings summit.
“I could have said, I don’t need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have grand slams.
“But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn’t there from the outside world, and you seem so small.
“But you can achieve great things when you don’t listen to all those things.”
Sharapova’s love of tennis kept her fires burning for four long years and on Saturday, when she collapsed to her knees in her moment of glory, everyone knew what it meant to her.
“It’s the most unique moment I’ve experienced in my career. I never thought I would have that. I thought when I won Wimbledon at 17 that it would be the most treasured moment of my career,” she said, barely caring about the $1,6 million prize purse she had just picked up.
“But when I fell down on my knees today I realised that this was extremely special.”