PARIS (Reuters) - As they gazed at each other across the net before their French Open final, 24 cms in height separated Maria Sharapova from Sara Errani - when the action began it was a country mile as the Russian won the title and completed the career grand slam.
The statuesque Sharapova is tennis royalty and her 6-3 6-2 win on Saturday over the 21st seed, who is diminutive in stature and in status, was less a contest and more a coronation.
It was all over in a flash: 89 minutes, five breaks of serve followed by a victory speech in four different languages.
The tell-tale signs had been there for all to see long before Sharapova pogoed and pirouetted in celebration with out-stretched arms and a smile as wide as the Volga river.
After all, this was the second seed’s seventh grand slam final, she had already returned to the pinnacle of the rankings and was bidding to enter an exclusive club of only 10 women who have won all four majors.
Errani came from the other side of the tennis tracks.
She had never reached a major final, or even come close, and was hoping to become the lowest seeded player to triumph at Roland Garros.
Just to heighten the sense of difference with diamond earring-wearing Sharapova, she ended the tournament saying: “I hope my life won’t change. I want the same life.”
Life on court for her, though, was far from enjoyable.
Sharapova’s extra reach and power proved decisive. Her serve regularly hurtled down 30 kph quicker than her opponent‘s, while the outright winners off both flanks mounted up with rapidity.
Martina Navratilova had described it as a “bad match-up” and on paper it literally was.
The tournament produced biographies of each player to accompany the final: Errani’s required a quick flick through, while Sharapova’s was a weighty tome with a word count to rival War and Peace.
Standing at only 1.64metrs, Errani’s serve was never going to be a lethal weapon, and so it proved as Sharapova broke in the Italian’s opening service game.
Before strolling out on court, Errani said she was “ready for a fight” and she had her moments saving break points with some tenacious scrambling in both sets.
She even broke the Russian when, at 4-0 down, it looked like the first set might pass without her registering a mark on the scoreboard.
Guile and guts had enabled her to prevail in her semi-final against Sam Stosur and she tried to shake Sharapova out of her comfort zone with some clever drop shots and audacious charges to the net.
Ultimately, though, Sharapova’s ability to crunch winners past her opponent ended any hopes the Italian might have had of a fairytale upset.
Perhaps the only person on Court Philippe Chatrier who did not feel the Russian deserved to win was the confused announcer who mistakenly asked the crowd to cheer for the “runner-up Maria Sharapova”.
The Russian now has four days off, or three if her coach has his way, before she begins her preparations for Wimbledon, the tournament she won as a fresh-faced teenager to launch herself into the celebrity stratosphere.
The agony of a debilitating shoulder injury that forced her out of the game for nine months in 2008, has finally been surpassed by the ecstasy of a major title after two unsuccessful attempts at clearing the final hurdle.
“I proved that no matter how many punches I took in my career, I’ve always gotten back up,” Sharapova explained with the Suzanne Lenglen Cup perched by her side.
She dropped only one set on her run through the French Open, the sort of form that should give her confidence that she can convert her superstar status into a vice-like grip on the women’s game.
She has now reached three out of the last four grand slam finals and proved she can win majors on every surface.
For so long, she had to share the on-court limelight, but now with the Williams sisters edging towards tennis’ exit door, Justine Henin retired and Kim Clijsters ready to follow, she is the box-office smash on tour.
Not that there is a hint of complacency.
“I have a lot more in me to achieve,” she said.
“I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have grand slams. But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day.”
For Errani, the Cinderella story ended here. The elegant Sharapova was never going to play the part of the ugly sister on the pumpkin red court.
She came into the tournament with little expectation and despite claiming a place in the top 10, she does not imagine a lot will change.
“I don’t expect to make finals in other tournaments,” she modestly admitted.
“I played a good two weeks. It was incredible for me, but I just want to keep doing the same things that I was doing, normal things.”
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Pritha Sarkar