Maria Sharapova, the new “Queen of Clay”

By David Sweet

Who does Maria Sharapova think she is – Rafael Nadal?

Sharapova swept all of the major red clay titles in 2012, with a 16-0 record.  16-0 on red clay?  Those are Nadal numbers!

Here’s how she did it:

She first won at Stuttgart, where the draw included the top 8 women.   She then defended her title at Rome, edging out 2011 French Open champion Li Na in three tough sets.  She capped it all off with her first French Open title.  Her only loss came at the hands of Serena Williams on the faster (and weirder) blue clay at Madrid.  She made women’s Grand Slam history – she is now the tenth woman to complete a career Grand Slam in singles.

That’s incredible for anyone, but especially for a player who years ago called herself a “cow on ice” on clay.

Let’s compare that to Nadal’s run during the 2012 clay season.  Yes, I’m comparing Sharapova to Nadal on red clay, heck even blue clay!

Nadal won Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, and his 7th French Open.  That’s 22-0 for the all-time “King of Clay” on red clay. His only loss?   It was at the hands of compatriot Fernando Verdasco on the faster (and again, weirder) blue clay at Madrid.  He made history – he is now the all-time leader in winning the most French Open singles titles.

Want a further comparison?

Sharapova lost a lot of big tournament finals in the past 12 months before finding success on clay.  She lost the 2011 Wimbledon final to current No. 4 Petra Kvitova.  She lost the 2012 Australian Open and Indian Wells finals to current No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, and the 2012 Miami final to current No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska.  Some tough losses (especially the Australian Open), but all to women at the top of the game.

So did Nadal.  He lost in the finals at the 2011 Wimbledon, 2011 US Open and 2012 Australian Open to No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and the 2011 Tokyo final to current No. 4 Andy Murray.  Some tough losses (especially the Australian Open), but all to men at the top of the game.

Maybe they planned this together, like showing up for doubles with matching outfits?  I jest.  Congratulations to both on an outstanding clay season!

David Sweet will be covering the WTA event the Bank of the West Tennis Classic at Stanford University for Tennis Panorama News July 9 -15, 2012. Follow his personal twitter account @davidsweetphoto, and ‘like’ his Facebook page “David Sweet Photography.”