PARIS // The picture she posed for at the beginning foreshadowed a mismatch in the making.
At 1.8 metres, Maria Sharapova towered over an opponent nearly 20 centimetres shorter.
The pictures that were snapped at the end told a different story: Sharapova down on her knees after a tougher-than-expected victory, face buried in her hands, celebrating after completing a comeback three years in the making and cementing her name among the greatest in tennis.
The Russian won the French Open on Saturday, defeating her Italian opponent, Sara Errani, 6-3, 6-2 in the final at Roland Garros to complete the career grand slam.
"It's been such a journey for me to get to this stage," Sharapova said. "There are so many people to thank but, most importantly, it's my wonderful team that keeps me together."
The second-seeded Sharapova, who was guaranteed a return to No 1 in the world once she reached the title match, jumped to a 4-0 lead against the 21st-seeded Errani, who was in her first major final.
But Errani battled back on a cool, blustery day in Paris, turning what had the makings of quick and ugly a rout into an 89-minute endurance contest filled with long rallies that forced Sharapova to reach back and find another gear.
Eventually, Sharapova's bigger serve and stronger groundstrokes wore down Errani.
"She won many points with her serve or in the first two or three shots," Errani said. "It was difficult. I couldn't play long points like I wanted to play."
When Errani netted a short backhand on the third match point, Sharapova dropped gingerly to her knees and covered her face, then leaned back and looked at the sky. Her journey back to the top finally was complete, capped with the only major title that had eluded her.
She has won each slam once.
"If this was my only one, it would be just as special as it is winning my fourth," she said.
Sharapova won the trophy on the red clay of Roland Garros, about three years after dropping as low as 126th in the rankings after shoulder surgery that threatened her career. She will be back at No. 1 in the WTA rankings on Monday for the first time since June 2008.
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