Sharapova digging the dirt these days
PARIS -- While Maria Sharapova practiced her strokes in a fashionable pink dress on Philippe Chatrier, her opponent Ksenia Pervak took the clay court wearing camouflage warm-ups as if preparing for an invasion Monday. Or an appearance on "Duck Dynasty."
It was a short war (or duck hunt). Sharapova took no prisoners, whipping Pervak 6-1, 6-2 in between rain showers on a gray day at the French Open.
"She is so tall, and the trajectory of the balls she hits is so different from the other players," Pervak said. "I expected something, but I didn't expect it like that. It was really uncomfortable, so I was not able to hit the balls deep enough. And she was attacking all the time."
Sharapova has attacked this entire year, whether her hand has been holding a tennis racket, a tube of sunscreen (she recently added Supergoop to her lucrative business ventures) or an Olympic torch; she was a torchbearer during the Winter Olympics opening ceremonies in her hometown of Sochi, which she says was one of the biggest honors of her life.
"I came to the United States when I was almost 7 years old, and I'd have to spell the word Sochi to everybody. I'd have to tell them where it was. Nobody knew where it was on a map," Sharapova said. "To think when I had arrived there and we were flying over the stadiums and to see that, to see the attention from all the world in this specific place was so special to me, because all my childhood memories were formed there.
"I actually had no idea what I was going to be doing at the ceremony until the rehearsals, and when they took me down to the stadium and opened up the ramp and they gave me the torch and I had to run up through the fumes, I thought I was dreaming."
Since then, Sharapova has been providing nightmares for many of her opponents. Following the Olympics, she won at Madrid and Stuttgart and boasts a 13-1 record on clay. Her lone loss on clay was in Rome two weeks ago to Ana Ivanovic. Six of her past eight titles have come on clay.
"I'm not thinking that she is doing well on clay just this year, but the last couple years," Pervak said. "But I think the clay here is pretty fast, so it fits her game. She's in good shape. I think she's playing really solid."
Clay and Sharapova didn't always have such a strong relationship.
"Clay was very difficult for me," Sharapova said. "Because I never had mental confidence that I was able to play a three-hour match and have the opportunity to play in semifinals or finals, because -- I wouldn't say weak or physically weak, but I didn't recover that well and I wasn't strong enough. It took me years to build that confidence in my body and my legs getting stronger and recovering on the court to make it a surface that I actually loved playing on, even if the conditions are like this today.
"I think it was one of the biggest individual goals I had, because I realized that I needed to do something about it, and I think I just took it upon myself. There wasn't a specific moment, but it was really a combination of these moments in the gym or these moments on the court. It's almost like getting that fear away. OK, you can slide and you can get back in the court. You don't need to just hang around by the post on the side. It's OK to get back on the court and play your game again."
Sharapova won the 2012 French Open on the famous Roland Garros red clay but lost in the 2013 final here to Serena Williams. This year she finds herself in the same quarter as the rival who has so dominated her. Sharapova is 2-16 against Williams in her career and has lost their past 15 matches. She hasn't beaten Williams in a decade.
"It's tough to think about that match down the line where you have to compete in three matches before that," Sharapova said of their possible quarterfinal meeting. "Obviously, it's a match that many people always look forward to when we play against each other. But in many ways, it doesn't matter if it's fourth round or the quarterfinal, semis, final. At a certain point, there is only one champion at a tournament.
"So it's not really about when you face somebody. It's about who comes through."