"I'm a warrior."
That was Maria Sharapova's response to her return to the top of the game, an astonishing feat that has taken her seven years, two of them spent in the wilderness of a painful shoulder rehabilitation.
“I have played tennis since I was 4 years old. I committed myself to this sport. I’ve always loved what I did,” she said. “When it was taken away from me for a while, that’s when I realized how grateful I was and how lucky I was to be playing it.”
If the sentiment in this statement is a rare foray inside the mind of a player notorious for her steeliness, there was no hint of forgiveness during Sharapova's 6-3, 6-3 beat-down of Petra Kvitova to reach her first Roland Garros final, and with it, reclaim the No.1 ranking.
The Sharapova of the topsy turvy fourth round against Klara Zakopalova, a match she escaped by the tips of her fingernails, was a long-distant memory compared to the titan on Court Philippe Chatrier, the Russian striking her groundstrokes with the fluidity that earned her the Wimbledon title in 2004, the US Open title in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008. Will that same form earn her the French Open title in 2012?
If she does, it will complete a career Grand Slam, a worthy accolade for one who has embodied the intriguing nature of women's tennis since screeching, literally, onto the scene as a 17-year-old in 2004.
But standing in Sharapova's way is another extraordinary story. Sara Errani, a ferociously pint-sized competitor with five titles to her name in 2012, will compete as the lowest-ranked seed in the French Open final since Mary Pierce in 2005, after unseating Sam Stosur 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 to reach her first Grand Slam final.
With tears in her eyes as she twirled her Babolat racket, a recent addition after paying $30,000 to get out of her previous contract with Wilson, Errani simply couldn't believe it.
The smart Euros will be on Sharapova redressing the wrongs of her two recent visits to Grand Slam finals. She was completely outplayed by Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon last year, and just as shell-shocked against Victoria Azarenka in Melbourne this January. Thus there is a chance that it could be Errani grinning from cheek to cheek with the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.
But there is an overwhelming sense that this time, Maria won't let that happen.