The new queen of Paris

Maria Sharapova hopes she can emulate women’s tennis pioneer Billie Jean King and set an example for the players who will follow in her footsteps as she once again sits on top of the world.

The Russian officially today becomes world number one for the first time in four years, and she will do so as the 10th woman to win all four grand slam titles in her career after lifting the French Open trophy on Saturday.

Sharapova defeated Italy’s Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 to put the icing on the cake of her long road back to the top after 10 months out with a shoulder injury in 2008 and 2009. The women’s game has struggled to match the extraordinary era in the men’s game at the moment, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic reaching new heights all the time. But in Sharapova the sport has a true global superstar, and someone who cares passionately about what it means to be number one.

She said: “I’m just extremely happy to be back at this stage. It means a lot to me. I’ve played the sport for so long and the sport itself means a lot to me, so my goal is to represent it in the best way possible and to be professional, on and off the court and set a good example, not just for now but a generation that follows after. Like Billie Jean King did. Obviously it’s something that’s always on my mind because I feel like, ultimately when you retire, what you put in place now, a whole new generation will follow in your footsteps.”

Sharapova will now take a few days off — four if she has her way, three if she has to give in to coach Thomas Hogstedt — before beginning to practise on grass.

The 25-year-old reached the final of Wimbledon last year, losing to Petra Kvitova, and she knows she will now be the prized scalp at SW19.

The 2004 champion will be the top seed at the All England Club for the first time, and she said: “It means a lot and I have the next few days to enjoy what I’ve achieved here and then on to the next one. Everyone wants to be the grand slam champion at Roland Garros, and everyone wants to beat the number one. When I step out on the court in a few days, I’m going to start working toward improving.

“I love the transition from clay to grass, the first few days are always fun. I can’t wait to get back and get ready for Wimbledon.”

And there is certainly no chance of Sharapova resting on her laurels now she has conquered every surface.

“To keep going, that’s my goal,” she said. “Whether I win or lose, I will retire the day that I wake up and I feel like I don’t believe that I can become a better player. And what I have is not enough. That will be the day I will stop trying to achieve that.”

Errani came into the tournament having only won one match at Roland Garros in her career. Her run to the final was one of the more unexpected grand slam stories of recent years.

Errani said: “I have to just think that it’s not a normal thing for me to make the final of a grand slam. I played a good two weeks. I just want to keep doing the same things that I was doing. So normal things. Just practice, and I’ll try to improve every day like I always do. So I have to think that I will lose.”

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