##This was an article I wrote in 2014 summarising Maria Sharapova's incredible mental toughness...
It would not have been quite right had Maria Sharapova completed one of the all-time great grand slam title runs in any other way.
A mighty struggle of over 3 hours; faced with the adversity of double faults at key times throughout the match; seeing the 2nd set slip from her grasp when so close to victory; but ultimately decided, like so often throughout her magnificent career, by her ability to respond to the adversities characteristic of 3-set encounters just a little better than her brave opponent.
Sharapova’s Remarkable Career 3-set Record...
Think of any quality associated with mental toughness and Maria Sharapova ticks the box:
Competes effectively when behind;
Competes effectively when not playing her best;
Competes effectively under pressure;
Competes effectively when in front;
Competes effectively through adversity.
In total, Sharapova’s career speaks of a player who is machine-like in her relentless competitiveness, a player who encapsulates mental toughness in every way, under all circumstances.
But for me, the most impressive of it all is a statistic that I had no idea about before this tournament...
Maria Sharapova now sits about equal with Chris Evert as the greatest 3-set warrior in the history of the women’s game, winning over 75% of her career 3-set matches.
As such, her greatest genius lies in the ability to navigate the challenges of ambiguous competitive moments and conquer them.
She Has Never Displayed this Skill More Clearly...
Has anyone in the history of the game ever won a grand slam singles title after being just 2 games from defeat in 4 consecutive matches?
Surely not before now!
That in 3 of those matches Sharapova lost the 1st set, and in the quarter-final was being so decisively dictated to that it appeared she was headed for a crushing defeat, is even more incredible.
But against Muguruza, and to a lesser degree Stosur and Bouchard, she was able to hang around, claw herself back into the match, and eventually dominate the 3rd set.
As Judith Murray tweeted, “Sharapova is like a tea bag…put her into hot water and you’ll find out how strong she is”.
Ultimately, to understand why Sharapova is so mentally tough we need look no further than her final post-match press conference.
Asked for her thoughts on claiming her 2nd French Open she said this, “I feel that I worked to get to this position. There’s nothing else. There is no substitute in these titles. You can’t just go out there and just do it without putting in the effort, putting in the work”.
And on how she finds keys to success in the hard moments, “There were a lot of ups and downs in the match. Just when I thought I was very close to winning it, I had lost four points in a row. Then the match becomes equal. Then you find yourself in a position where you feel like you’re starting over, which is quite difficult…I just took a moment to reflect and try to focus on the things that I was doing to hurt her and the things that were giving me an advantage in the game. I knew that she was playing well, and despite all that, despite that it was a very physical match, I still wanted to continue to try to do those things well no matter how frustrating it was to lose that 2nd set…that’s the story”.
And That Is the Story of the Final and Her Career…
Is she incredibly physically and technically gifted, most certainly yes.
But most importantly, this victory portrays a lifelong history of disciplined, unrelenting physical and mental work under the guidance of many great mentors, so that in this moment of extreme emotional turmoil, when she had fought so hard for 2 weeks to get ‘one hand on the trophy’ only to see it slip from her grasp during the 2nd set tiebreak, rather than being swept up in those difficulties, or making attempts to escape or reduce them, she simply refocused her attention on; and tried her best to implement; her most successful strategy.
This formula is quite simple to understand but incredibly hard to do when faced with such strong difficult emotions as Halep experienced when serving at 4-4 in the deciding set and the umpire awarded the 1st point to Sharapova after overruling a linesperson.
Halep admitted her response, “I couldn’t manage my nerves and I couldn't stay focused for the next points”.
The great champion quickly pounced and completed what must be the sweetest of her career titles, and the victory that best defines her mental toughness mastery!
Well done Maria Sharapova…2014 women’s French Open Singles Champion!
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