TENNIS: Sharapova wants to be like Billie-Jean

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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.

Today the Russian will officially become 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 personally.

“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.”

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.”

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will have to come back to Roland Garros today to complete their French Open final after rain forced play to be abandoned yesterday with the Spaniard leading 6-4 6-3 2-6 1-2 in Paris.

Almost all the match had been played in light rain but conditions became increasingly slippery and an angry Nadal had been calling for the match to be suspended for some time before they finally went off just before 7pm.

The 26-year-old, who is bidding for a record seventh title at Roland Garros, looked to be cruising at two sets and a break ahead on the stage he has made his own.

But Djokovic, for whom victory would bring a fourth straight grand slam title and sporting immortality, hit back with a stunning run of eight straight games to lead by a break in the fourth.