Maria Sharapova overcame years of injury struggle to come full circle at Roland Garros in 2012, capturing her fourth major title for a box set while reclaiming the top spot on the WTA rankings.
Welcome to French Open Flashbacks, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable narratives from Roland Garros over the past 20 years. After recapping Charleston’s classics, Stuttgart’s standards, Madrid’s magic moments, and Rome’s records, our retrospective heads to the culmination of the clay season in Paris – up next is Maria Sharapova’s Career Grand Slam fulfillment at the 2012 French Open.
For more classic moments, check out our other French Open Flashbacks:
1999: Graf wins 22nd and final Grand Slam title
2000: Pierce fulfills destiny, rings in millennium with Roland Garros double
2001: Capriati confirms comeback with brave battle in record-setting final
2003: Henin fulfils lofty goals with first of four Roland Garros crowns
2004: Myskina makes history, ushers in Russian dynasty
2011: Li becomes Asia’s first Grand Slam champion in historic triumph
2014: Halep serves notice in run to first final in Paris
2016: Mladenovic, Garcia delight home fans with fairytale triumph in Paris
2017: Ostapenko powers to Roland Garros title out of left field
THE MOMENT: Maria Sharapova was at the forefront of the Russian Revolution occurring in the women’s game. Weeks after Anastasia Myskina surged into the history books by winning the 2004 French Open, Sharapova backed up the hype with a stunning Wimbledon fortnight.
Her star continued to rise in the years that followed; by 2008, she was ranked World No.1 and had added the US and Australian Open titles to her trophy case. Success on clay, however, continued to elude her – something that was no secret to the 6’2″ Sharapova.
“I feel like a cow on ice,” she famously said after a second round win over Jill Craybas in 2007. Though she lost just three games to Craybas that day, Sharapova rarely did look like a contender for the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, losing that year in the semifinals to Ana Ivanovic (winning only three games).
Where she lacked in technical prowess she made up with force of will; when she returned to tennis after shoulder surgery, she battled into the quarterfinals with an abbreviated serve and just two wins in 10 months.
A year later, she pushed four-time French Open champion Justine Henin to the brink in a match that unlocked the player many would come to call “Claypova.”
By 2012, Sharapova had become the tour’s premier force on the terre battue, arriving in Paris having won titles at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix and Internazionali BNL d’Italia. She flew through her first three matches – dropping a 6-0, 6-0 scoreline on Alexandra Cadantu for her opening salvo – and survived a rainy weekend clash with Klara Koukalova to reach the quarterfinals.
Playing to recapture the No.1 ranking for the first time in four years, she avenged an Australian Open defeat to Petra Kvitova – who had also stopped her in the 2011 Wimbledon final – to find herself on the precipice of a Career Grand Slam.
The Russian showed few nerves in taking on surprise finalist Sara Errani, and secured her fourth major title with a brand of clay court power tennis that would define the decade.
While Myskina won Roland Garros with relentless athleticism, Sharapova’s pure power – long seen as a hindrance on slower surfaces – proved equally efficient in Paris.
But how? How had a surface that once minimized her strengths and exposed her weaker movement become her best? It all comes down to the serve. When persistent shoulder injuries affected the Russian’s once-reliable delivery, her game underwent subtle shifts that turned her from the teenager who took Wimbledon by storm into the adult able to succeed on all surfaces.
“I never really went about my career thinking I had to prove something. I think it’s more about proving to yourself than the outside world, expecting things from what you believe you can achieve,” she said of the Career Grand Slam.
The legend of “Claypova” lived on, and though she lost the title to 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in 2013, she regained the championship the following year. In what would be her fifth and final major title, she outlasted rival Simona Halep in three grueling sets, roaring through the final eight points of the match.
“You’re not just born being a natural clay‑court player,” she said in 2014. “Okay, maybe if you’re [Rafael] Nadal, but certainly not me. I didn’t grow up on it; I didn’t play on it. I just took it upon myself to make myself better on it. There is no one else that was going to do that for me. I had to do the work.”