at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
Paris - It was little wonder Maria Sharapova's jubilant coach was wagging his index finger aloft on Thursday as the Russian enjoyed a double celebration after sweeping into her maiden French Open final.
Not only did her 6-3, 6-3 humbling of Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova allow her to move within two sets of fulfilling her dream of completing a career grand slam but, after a four-year wait, she was finally back on top of the world.
Whether on not Sharapova becomes the newest member of the Roland Garros champions' club when she takes on Italian outsider Sara Errani on Saturday, the statuesque Russian's name will be on top of the WTA rankings list on Monday.
“A few years ago I don't know if I even had a ranking after having my shoulder surgery (in August 2008). It's pretty special that on Monday I going to be number one again,” a beaming Sharapova told the crowd.
“I'm happy and I'm proud of where I came from... I've worked hard to get to this place.”
Four years after not knowing whether she would ever be able to compete at the highest level again, or even come close to winning any titles let alone a grand slam, Sharapova opened her slender shoulders wide to blow away Kvitova.
The 22-year-old was bidding to become the first Czech woman to reach the final since Hana Mandlikova won the title for Czechoslovakia in 1981.
But she stood no chance against a woman who has never been afraid to show her iron will in the face of adversity.
The strong swirling winds not only made the 17 flagpoles on top of Philippe Chatrier Court sway from side-to-side, it also made life difficult for both players as their long ponytails kept flying into their faces.
Sharapova's habit of repeatedly tucking her hair behind her ears went into overdrive as she tried to clear her vision and it was perhaps unsurprising that the Russian faced break points on both of her opening service games. However, it was Kvitova who blinked first.
The Czech left-hander rates her forehand and her serve as her strongest weapons. Unfortunately both were misfiring on Thursday.
Two sloppy forehand errors handed Sharapova the break in the fifth game and the Russian barely needed to move off the baseline as she watched Kvitova implode while trying to stay alive in the set.
The fourth seed was broken to love, a forehand into the tramlines on set point summing up the kind of day she was having.
Her day went from bad to worse as she dropped serve for a third time, this time with a double fault, to go 1-3 down in the second set.
She managed to show some fight to level for 3-3 but Sharapova kept on pounding winners from the baseline to break for 5-3 before wrapping up the one-sided contest in 77 minutes with an eye-popping second serve ace.
“What an amazing feeling,” Sharapova said after notching up her eighth win in nine matches against left-handers in 2012.
“I've been in the semi-finals three times and always dreamed to be in the final and finally I have that opportunity.” - Reuters