Maria Sharapova’s transformation on clay has been one of the Russian’s most remarkable accomplishments and she herself cannot deny her surprise at her recent results at Roland Garros.
Sharapova, who had her breakthrough as a 17-year-old stunning Serena Williams to win Wimbledon in 2004, has made the final for the past three straight years in Paris, picking up the title on two of those occasions.
Roland Garros is now the only major the world No2 has won twice – she has won once at each of the remaining three – and today, she will commence her assault on a third Parisian crown when she takes on Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi on centre court.
"I think I evolved as a player and as a person. I won my first grand slam at a very young age and tennis life. I really enjoy playing on very fast courts with quick points. I wasn’t yet physically developed. I was still growing at that stage. I wasn’t as strong as I am today," said Sharapova, looking back at her early years on tour.
"With the evolution of the courts and technologies and the game itself, things have evolved, definitely. I guess to be in this position I think for many, including myself, the transition I made on the clay courts to become a two-time French Open champion has been a big surprise and really incredible achievement personally for me. Because I was able to take something that was a big weakness of mine and make it into one of my strengths."
It is the kind of transition world No3 Andy Murray will be looking to emulate in Paris this fortnight. The Scot, who opens against Argentine lucky loser Facundo Arguello today, admits he has never really been too comfortable on clay, despite having made the semi-finals twice before at Roland Garros.
This year, he comes to Paris on a 10-match winning streak on the surface – a run that saw him pick up his first two clay titles of his career, in Madrid and Munich.
"It’s probably the best I have played on clay, for sure. I never really felt particularly comfortable on the surface. Sometimes by the time I got to the French Open I started to feel good, but, yeah obviously winning tournaments and beating, good players helps with the confidence," said Murray, who beat Rafael Nadal in the Madrid final.
"I just feel like I have an idea of what I’m doing on the court sometimes. In the past I have not really known what was happening on the court and felt like I was struggling with my movement. Whereas this year it doesn’t feel like that. I feel like I’m moving well. I feel a lot freer on the court. Body feels good. That’s positive."