|Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a return to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic during their final match at the Wimbledon tennis championships in London July 2, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville
After uprooting from Russia and leaving her mother behind when she joined Nick Bolletieri’s Florida academy as a nine-year-old, Maria Sharapova knows better than most about the sacrifices needed to succeed at the highest levels of sport.
So it was not surprising that she bridled at the suggestion that had she triumphed at Wimbledon on Saturday in her first grand slam final for three years it would have been a fairytale comeback after years of injury problems.
“I don’t see this as a fairytale, even if I had won it, it’s still a lot of hard work,” said the Russian after losing 6-3 6-4 to Czech Petra Kvitova.
“It’s not that these results and getting to the final come out of thin air... people see the rewards but they don’t see the hours of work that are put in to get them.”
Sharapova has been dogged by a persistent shoulder injury that required surgery and kept her off court for several months from 2008 and into 2009.
Off-court things continued to go along nicely as the world’s highest-paid sportswoman secured an eight-year extension to her Nike contract worth 45 million pounds ($71,932,500.000) but she struggled to make a mark on the grand slams.
After her Australian Open triumph in 2008, a French Open quarter-final in 2009 was the only time she got past the fourth round in a major before she reached the last four at Roland Garros this season.
She took things a stage further at Wimbledon, where she won the title as a 17-year-old, by reaching the final for the first time since that 2004 victory.
“Besides the fact that I lost, I think this is a big step for me, being here in the final,” Sharapova said.
“I feel like I’m improving this year. Considering that I hadn’t been past the fourth round at Wimbledon for four years, this gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the year. “We still have many tournaments and I just want to be a better player and I want to keep working.“
Sharapova found herself in the unusual position of being out-hit from the baseline by her 21-year-old opponent. Her serve, remodelled after the shoulder surgery, has been shaky all tournament despite her not dropping a set before the final.
“She was hitting really powerful and hitting winners from all over the court, she made a defensive shot into an offensive one,“ she said of Kvitova, who was appearing in her first grand slam final. “I think she was just more aggressive than I was, hit deeper and harder and got the advantage in the points,“ added the Russian, who served 13 double-faults in her semi-final and six in the final.
“When she goes for her shots and they’re very flat, sometimes it’s just too good.“ ($1 0.626 British Pounds)