Sidelined in 2008 by a right shoulder that needed surgery, putting her tennis future suddenly in doubt, Maria Sharapova decided to use the free time to study a new language, the one spoken at the only Grand Slam tournament she had yet to win.
"I found a French school close to my house," she recalled, "and I did private lessons every single day for three months."
Sharapova cut short those classes when it was time to begin the slow, painful rehab process and get her shoulder back in shape. About 3 1/2 years later, yesterday at Roland Garros, Sharapova put all of that hard work to good use on the most important clay court there is - and even trotted out a little French during the victory speech she often wondered if she'd ever get a chance to deliver.
Whipping big serves with that rebuilt shoulder, putting forehands and backhands right on lines and even moving well on the red surface she once worried made her look like a "cow on ice", Sharapova beat surprise finalist Sara Errani of Italy 6-3, 6-2 to win her first French Open title and become the 10th woman with a career Grand Slam.
"It's a wonderful moment in my career," the 25-year-old Sharapova told the crowd in French, before switching to English to add: ''I'm really speechless. It's been such a journey for me to get to this stage.''