Should we expect more from Sharapova?
Ten years ago at Wimbledon, Maria Sharapova won her first Grand Slam title at age 17. Two weeks ago at Roland Garros, she won her fifth Grand Slam at age 27.
"It's incredible to be sitting here 10 years after my first Grand Slam win, and to think that I now have five," she said after winning her second French Open. "I don't know what else to say. At that stage you're 17 years old, and of course you think it was a great tournament. Can I do that again? Can I win more majors? You always have those question marks.
"So to sit here 10 years later and have five under my belt and to keep going, it's quite emotional."
It's impressive as well. Sharapova is one of just 17 players in history -- and only 10 in the Open era -- to win a career Grand Slam (something Novak Djokovic would love to be able to put on his résumé). She has been ranked No. 1 on five occasions. She is the highest-compensated woman in sports, earning at least $90 million in prize money and endorsements, including $22 million in endorsement deals last year alone, according to Forbes. She has won an Olympic medal, carried the Russian flag at the 2012 London Olympics and was a torch-bearer during the 2014 Sochi Olympics opening ceremonies.
Oh, and she also makes some rather expensive candy.
"It's tough to sum up because so many things have happened within those 10 years," Sharapova said of her career since that 2004 Wimbledon title. "I've gone through a tough [shoulder] injury, and I've had to come back at 21. I think for a player at that age, that's pretty tough. I feel like I was thrown a lot of adversity in my career and I got through all that. And in the middle of all that, I've had incredible moments like these. Winning all the Grand Slams. Being No. 1 in the world.
"It's all a little girl wishes for when she's trying to become a tennis champion."
There is no question Sharapova has accomplished much in her career, more than most players can dream of. But even so, has she achieved all that was expected of her a decade ago after that first victory as a teenager at Wimbledon? After all, in that same stretch Serena Williams has won more than twice as many Grand Slams (11).
So has Sharapova overachieved, underachieved or achieved just about what we should have expected?
"That depends what you think an underachiever should be," former world No. 4 James Blake recently told ESPN.com. "I personally would never consider her an underachiever. If the expectations were higher, that's on the people who had those expectations. I doubt that if you told her she'd win all the Grand Slam titles she'd be too upset about it. She's been able to win every major and has also had to overcome a lot of injuries. From what I know of her, she puts it on the line and doesn't make excuses. And that's why she is the player she has become.
"Plus, she's had to deal with Serena, one of the most dominant athletes in the world."
Indeed. It isn't entirely fair to have your career measured against one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, especially when you are a career 2-16 with a 15-match losing streak against that player, as Sharapova is against Serena. Look at it this way: Aside from Serena, no other woman has won as many majors since Wimbledon 2004 as Sharapova.
"She definitely hasn't overachieved, not at all. And she hasn't underachieved either. She's playing at a time when she's facing Serena," tennis analyst Mary Carillo said. "For somebody who is so rich and famous and accomplished, that she still tries to get better? That she has done this to her clay-court game? I couldn't be more impressed."
Sharapova's improvement on dirt is remarkable. When she was younger, she said her clay-court game resembled a cow on ice. But she worked hard and continuously to get better and now has two French Open titles, plus a 93 percent winning percentage on the surface since 2012. "She's the best clay-court player around," Carillo said.
She also showed her tenacity and drive on the court at the French Open, winning her final four matches in three sets. She is always a tough opponent, but especially so when pushed to the limit. That mental strength has allowed her to return to her tennis success when there are so many other competing career interests.
"I have always said that when I achieved my success, my biggest success at 17 years old ... you think you're on top of the world, and all of a sudden you're pulled in so many different directions," Sharapova said. "You're photographed by Vogue, and you have all these incredible opportunities. You get to wear pretty dresses, and Marc Jacobs lent me a dress and it was the biggest deal in my life. I didn't know what Sports Illustrated, the magazine, was, but I knew who Marc Jacobs was.
"It's so many different things that you're able to do. And at the end of the day, you've got to get back to your roots and what's important, and that's what brought you those things. That's tennis. That's what ultimately makes you happier than anything else."
With another shoulder injury and uneven play, Sharapova fell from No. 2 in the world at the 2013 French Open to No. 8 when the 2014 tournament started. Then she won the French again and proved her career was back on track. She hugged the trophy and sighed blissfully. Asked whether the French Open victory was what she wanted most, Sharapova said it was when she was playing in Paris. "When I'm playing in London, no."
When in London, she wants most to win at Wimbledon, a victory she earned a decade ago and is trying to repeat in what has been a remarkable career.
"That's the moment that marked my career, at Wimbledon," Sharapova said. "I appreciate that moment so much. It came so unexpectedly, and yet 10 years later, to have five Grand Slams and still be playing and still have the passion to win more -- that brings a lot of joy. I want to get better. And I want even more."