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Posted June 13, 2012 | comments Leave a comment

Keeler: Tennis champ's comeback inspiring

By Tommy Keeler - tkeeler@nvdaily.com

If anyone has seen me in the last five days, I apologize for the huge smile that has constantly been on my face. It's been five days, and I'm still enjoying the greatest moment in sports, for me as a fan.

On Saturday, Maria Sharapova won the French Open title, and with that she completed the career slam, and she also moved to No. 1 in the world this week. Of course, she is my favorite sports athlete.

For many who follow sports, Sharapova's comeback might not seem like that big of a deal. The reality is Sharapova's comeback from shoulder surgery is a great sports story that anyone can be inspired by. It shows if you believe in yourself and never give up, you can overcome any obstacle.

Tennis doesn't get a lot of attention or have as many fans as other sports. So, I understand that most people when probably think Sharapova is just a glamour diva who plays tennis for a living. Some probably think she's just a slightly better version of Anna Kournikova. But anyone who knows tennis, knows that couldn't be further from the truth.

The thing that I've always loved about Sharapova, besides the long legs of course, has been her fighting spirit, her drive and determination to be the best. And it is those same things that have helped take her back to the very top of the game.

In the first part of 2008, Sharapova was on top of the tennis world. She was not only a superstar at age 20, but she had just won her third grand slam and was No. 1 in the world. She was not only at the top, but she was dominating, off to the best start of her career. It appeared she was finally about to take over at the top of the sport.

Then came her shoulder injury. It took four months for doctors to properly diagnose her injury, and even a little longer for them to decide she needed rotator cuff surgery. Tennis players are a little like pitchers in baseball. The service motion in tennis can be just as hard on athletes as it can in baseball.

Sharapova was off the tour for nine months, but her road back to the top was anything but easy. Due to her shoulder surgery, she lost some of the feel in her arm, making it tougher to serve the way she used to. The reality is she will never serve the way she once did. What was once one of her biggest weapons was gone.

When she came back on tour, her ranking dropped all the way down to 126 in the world. And there were some people who believed she would never get back to the top. No one had ever come back from the surgery she had and won a grand slam, let alone be ranked No. 1. In fact, most had never been the same after an injury like that.

Her first two years were quite a struggle, as she learned how to adjust with her serve and to simply get back the confidence and game she once had.

She said after winning Saturday, there were times even she wasn't sure if she could do it, but she knew she had to keep fighting and believing in herself. It was that determination and drive to be the best that wouldn't let her give up.

Sharapova had plenty of money, she had done enough already to be a Hall of Famer, but she wanted to come back because she wants to play the game and she wants to be the best. So she didn't listen to the critics, or anyone who told her she couldn't make it back to the top.

Last year, things finally began to take off for her. She started the year at No. 18, but things began to really click for her in the middle of the season. She made the semifinals at the French Open, and followed that up by making the final at Wimbledon. Her ranking soared back into the top 5, and she finished the year at No. 4.

This year has been the best so far in her career. She made the final at the Australian Open, and has reached at least the quarterfinals in every tournament she has played. She has a 36-5 record as she heads into Wimbledon.

The last piece of the puzzle in the comeback for Sharapova has been winning that fourth grand slam, and the fact that it came in Paris to complete the career slam was just the icing on the cake. She became only the 10th female ever to win a career slam.

It was great seeing her reaction, and seeing her smile as she won. She said afterwards that it was the sweetest of all her slams.

The best part for me was knowing that she completed her comeback in true Sharapova fashion, with grit and determination. Sharapova isn't the most talented player in the world, but what makes her special is how hard she's willing to work to be the best, and that she never gives up.

Those are simple qualities that anyone can learn from.

Sharapova now has a big lead in the rankings, and if she can stay healthy she could stay at the top for quite a while. At 25, she still has plenty of time to add to her legacy.

After she won her semifinal match at the French Open, Sharapova clinched the No. 1 ranking. Nike immediately came out with an ad that said, "Those who belong at the top, never forget their way back." I'm glad Sharapova is back where she belongs.

While I hated seeing her go through the injury and the prolonged comeback, it certainly made seeing her smile, after she won on Saturday, that much sweeter.


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