It was after a second-round victory at the 2007 French Open that Maria Sharapova famously compared her movement on red clay to a "cow on ice."
"I do occasionally still feel like it," Sharapova said Tuesday, "and I'm sure I look like it, too."
Not quite. Certainly not in the first round of this year's French Open, anyway.
Looking rather comfortable moving around on the slow surface and getting off to a quick start at the only Grand Slam tournament she's never won, Sharapova produced a perfect score at Roland Garros on Tuesday, beating 78th-ranked Alexandra Cadantu of Romania 6-0, 6-0 in 48 minutes.
Truth is, the second-seeded Sharapova never gave her opponent much of a chance, compiling an 18-0 edge in winners. Sharapova won 51 points and lost only 18.
She didn't need to expend much energy out there, but she figures that she's in good enough condition to handle what can be a grueling place to play the seven matches required to earn a Grand Slam title.
Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008. The best she's done at the French Open, however, was the semifinals twice, in 2007 and last year.
Getting more and more efficient on clay, Sharapova is coming off a second consecutive Italian Open title on the surface last week.
In the past, Sharapova knows full well, a demanding three-set match at Roland Garros might leave her too sapped to be at her best in the following round.
"For the next match, it was just like the balloon popped or something, like ... you could tell my energy level wasn't there (and I) wasn't moving so good," she said. "And that has improved a lot, and helps me mentally, knowing that I don't feel like I'm saving myself so much."
The way Sharapova looks at it, she needed to focus on having better fitness and consistency from point to point, and from match to match — and she has.
"Over the years, you learn what your body can take, what it can't, what you need, how you recover better, little by little," she explained. "I mean, look, I'm not ever going to be lifting 50-pound weights anytime soon — or ever — but it's little things, little muscles, little explosive steps that I feel like I've improved."
The 22-year-old Cadantu has never beaten someone ranked in the top 60, falling to 0-6 in such matches. She's also now 0-2 in Grand Slam matches.
And the Romanian's assessment after seeing Sharapova up close?
"She has a good game," Cadantu said. "She can make it here."
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