Monday, February 19, 2018
Sports

Path becomes clear, leads to red clay final

PARIS — When Maria Shara­pova's opponent in today's French Open final, Sara Errani, was 12 years old, she struck out on her own, leaving behind her family in Italy and heading off to Nick Bollettieri's famed tennis academy in Bradenton.

Far from her parents, and not yet able to speak English well, Errani stuck it out for about 10 months, crying nearly every day. She called home a lot.

"I knew she was determined and focused," her mother, Fulvia, said Thursday after watching Errani win her first Grand Slam semifinal, "so I knew she would figure things out."

Now 25, Errani most certainly has. She figured out she needed to go back to Europe, eventually finding a new coach and a place to train in Spain. She figured out how to overcome the limitations of a 5-foot-4½ frame in a sport filled with taller, harder hitters — such as the 6-2 Sharapova, a three-time major champion who will be standing across the net today at Roland Garros with the title at stake.

Mostly, Errani focused on always improving.

"I play and give my best, and if I don't win, I don't win," she said. "But I don't think about whether I can win the title. I just think about the next match. If I win, then I think about the next one. And if I win again, then the next one.

"But I don't think too far ahead. That doesn't help a player. It's better to take it a step at a time."

Sharapova, 25, is a global superstar and her story is well-known: born in Siberia, moved with her father to Florida as a kid, worked with Bollettieri, too.

"I don't remember crossing paths," Sharapova said. "We have never played against each other, but I certainly know she's a dangerous player because of the way she's played here and because of the way she's performed on clay this year."

Errani's tale is far less familiar; she's not even all that famous in Italy.

Until a quarterfinal run at this year's Australian Open, Errani never had been past the third round at a Grand Slam tournament.

Until this week, she was 0-28 against players ranked in the top 10. Now she's 2-28, thanks to victories over No. 6 Sam Stosur, a Tampa resident, in the semifinals, and No. 10 Angelique Kerber in the quarterfinals. Those upsets followed wins over two past French Open champions, 2008's Ana Ivanovic and 2009's Svetlana Kuznetsova.

And before she sets foot on court today, Errani owns a major title: She teamed with Roberta Vinci to beat Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the women's doubles final Friday. That means Errani can become the first player to win the singles and doubles events at the French Open since Mary Pierce in 2000.

Asked to explain her surge this season, the 21st-seeded Errani pointed to her equipment: She switched to a racket with a longer handle — she has cracked repeatedly that growing longer arms wasn't an option — which adds some oomph to her strokes.

The change made such a difference that Errani was willing to pay to get out of her contract with the company that made her old racket.

"It was love at first sight," she said about the new model. "From my first practices with it, I really felt completely different. … It boosted my confidence."

And while Sharapova returns to No. 1 in the world rankings by virtue of reaching her first French final and can become just the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam with a win today, Errani is guaranteed to move into the top 10 for the first time.

Errani's coach, Pablo Lozano, was asked whether he expected her to go this far when they first began working together eight years ago.

"No. No. No. Not even a year ago," he said. "To reach the final at a tournament like this, you need to be one of the best 10 or 15 or maybe 20 players in the world."

Comments
LeBron James leads squad to All-Star victory

LeBron James leads squad to All-Star victory

LOS ANGELES — LeBron James picked a winner in the NBA All-Star Game.James scored 29 and hit the go-ahead layup with 34.5 seconds to play, winning his third All-Star Game MVP award while his hand-picked team rallied to win an uncommonly entertai...
Updated: 2 hours ago
History in sight, Aric Almirola’s heart broken at Daytona 500

History in sight, Aric Almirola’s heart broken at Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH — Early Sunday evening, Aric Almirola walked from the infield care center and back to the garage area at Daytona International Speedway. His day was done, and with it a dream, the biggest you can have. He was released when medical...
Updated: 2 hours ago
What were Rays thinking in ditching Odorizzi, Dickerson, adding Cron?

What were Rays thinking in ditching Odorizzi, Dickerson, adding Cron?

PORT CHARLOTTE – Rays officials insisted Sunday they made the best deals they could in a bad market, trading No. 2 starter Jake Odorizzi for an unheralded Class A shortstop prospect and DFA-ing 2017 All-Star Corey Dickerson in essentially a swa...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Bubba Wallace emotional after Daytona 500 runner-up finish

Bubba Wallace emotional after Daytona 500 runner-up finish

DAYTONA BEACH – No, Bubba Wallace did not win the 60th running of the Daytona 500.But you wouldn't have known that after seeing his emotions after he placed second – the highest finish ever by a black driver in the Great American Race.Wal...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Winter Olympics: First Russian fails drug test at Games

Winter Olympics: First Russian fails drug test at Games

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — A Russian has failed a preliminary doping test, the first athlete from the country to come under investigation for using a banned substance at the Games, putting in jeopardy Russia’s efforts to move past a vast, state-backe...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Monday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYCollege basketballWomen: Florida State at Duke6 p.m.ESPN2Miami at Notre Dame7 p.m.ESPN; 620-AMMaryland at Northwestern7 p.m.FS1Howard at N.C. Central7 p.m.ESPNUWomen: Georgia at Mississippi7 p.m.SECWomen: Syracuse at Pittsburgh7 p.m.Fox SunWomen...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Don’t like Rays moves? You’ve got company in Longo

Don’t like Rays moves? You’ve got company in Longo

Evan Longoria has said pretty much all the right things since the Rays traded him in December to the Giants.But the former franchise cornerstone felt strongly the Rays made the wrong move in designating for assignment Corey Dickerson and spoke out on...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Winter Olympics: U.S. freestyle skier Nick Goepper conquers his demons and ends up a medalist again

Winter Olympics: U.S. freestyle skier Nick Goepper conquers his demons and ends up a medalist again

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Nick Goepper met Jeret "Speedy" Peterson only once.The larger-than-life Olympic aerial skier left a powerful impression on Goepper, an Indiana kid on his way to his own whirling fame.So when it got bad four years ago, when ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Austin Dillon wins Daytona 500 after Aric Almirola wrecks late

Austin Dillon wins Daytona 500 after Aric Almirola wrecks late

DAYTONA BEACH – As Austin Dillon celebrated his Daytona 500 win Sunday, he couldn't help but remember the time he was standing there, in Victory Lane, 20 years ago this week.He was 7 then, and his index finger jutted into the air triumphantly t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Shooting from the Lip

Shooting from the Lip

Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.Worst newsSaturday night could not have been fun for Rays fans. Their team traded solid pitcher Jake Odorizzi and essentially let go of 2017 All-Star Corey ...
Updated: 5 hours ago