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By Nick Georgandis

With her triumph Saturday at the French Open, Russia's Maria Sharapova took that elusive step forward from among the simply great players of the Open Era into the legendary elite - owner of all four Grand Slam championships in her career.

Sharapova adds the 2012 French Open singles crown to the Wimbledon title she claimed in 2004, the US Open title added in 2006 and the Australian Open crown won in 2008.

Clearly, even-numbered years are good ones to Sharapova, who also took over the No. 1 ranking in the world in the process. She becomes the first woman since Serena Williams in 2003 to complete the career Grand Slam, and just the third in the past 24 years.

Sharapova is now part of an elite group of six women to complete the career Grand Slam in the Open Era - and although her four total Slams are nowhere near the total racked up by her fellow Slammers - Williams, Steffi Graf, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Margaret Court - her place in history is now cemented.

By completing the career Grand Slam, Sharapova moves out of the ranks of the Monica Seleses, Justine Henins and Lindsay Davenports who were able to notch three-fourths of the career Grand Slam but could never get over the hump in that fourth venue.

Although she'll never catch Evert in total Slams won, Sharapova's career arc to the career Slam is most similar to that of plucky American, who racked up her first titles at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in a 16-month period between May 1974 and September 1975, then needed a further seven years to finally claim the Australian Open title.

Early in her career, it seemed the French Open would be an easy take for Sharapova. It was her first quarterfinal Slam appearance in 2003, and in 2007 she reached the tournament semifinals as the No. 2 seed, only to be thrashed by Ana Ivanovic.

She failed to reach the final four for the next three years, and drifted out of the Top 10 before returning with a vengeance in 2011 with another push to the semifinals, ultimately falling there to eventual champion Li Na.

Despite the loss, Sharapova had refound her championship form and stayed in the top five for the remainder of 2011 and into 2012.

Evert's situation was a bit different. She did not participate in the Australian Open for nine of the first 11 years of her career, reaching the final in 1974 and again in 1981. Both losses were near misses: In 1974 she fell to Evonne Goolagon Cawley, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-0, and in 1981, Navratilova edged her 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5.

She was back in 1982 as the No. 2 seed behind Navratilova, and eight years after her first Slam - a drought matched by Sharapova until Saturday - and took out Navratilova in the finals, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3.

The other members of the career Grand Slam club needed considerably less drama to reach their goal. Williams took the US Open in 1999 and finished her Slam with the Australian Open title in 2003.

Court had already won one career Grand Slam in the amateur era, but whipped through another one between the 1969 Australian Open and Wimbledon in 1970. Graf was just as "boring" - taking her first Slam at the French Open in 1987 and finishing her career Slam at the US Open in 1988, part of her single-season Golden slam.

Although she would wind up with more total  Slams than anyone alive, Navratilova took five seasons to complete her Grand Slam, first winning Wimbledon in 1978, but taking until the end of 1983 to close out her first US Open crown.

Here's a look at the Open Era women who came the closest to completing the career Grand Slam without actually doing it.

Near Misses:

Martina Hingis - Australian Open: 1997-1999; Wimbledon: 1997; US Open: 1997;
Missing - French Open: 1997 finalist; 1998 semifinalist; 1999 semifinalist; 2000 semifinalist; 2001 semifinalist.

Lindsay Davenport - Australian Open: 2000; Wimbledon: 1999; US Open: 1998; 
Missing - French Open: 1998 semifinalist. 

Evonne Goolagong Cawley - Australian Open: 1974-1977; French Open: 1971; WImbledon: 1971; US Open: 1973 finalist; 1974 finalist; 1975 finalist; 1976 finalist.

Monica Seles - Australian Open: 1991-1993, 1996; French Open: 1990-1992; US Open: 1991-1992.
Missing - WImbledon: 1990 quarterfinalist; 1992 finalist.

Justine Henin - Australian Open 2004; French Open 2003; US Open 2004.
Missing - Wimbledon: 2001 finalist; 2002 semifinalist; 2003 semifinalist; 2006 finalist; 2007 semifinalist.