Forehand, confidence on Sharapova's side in Wimbledon final

Teen's go-for-it approach has S. Williams nostalgic


July 03, 2004|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WIMBLEDON, England - Maria Sharapova had just finished a BBC television interview and thought the camera was switched off. It wasn't, and in a moment her face had changed from animated and smiling to expressionless and bored.

Sharapova knows how it works: Smile for the camera.

Born in Siberia, the 17-year-old Sharapova is the tennis girl of the new century. Her talent was noticed when she was 6. Soon, there were agents at her door, offering scholarships to U.S. academies and lessons in grooming and modeling.

And now she has arrived on tennis' biggest stage, the Wimbledon final. Today, she will play two-time defending champion Serena Williams. Most likely, the crowd will shout for Sharapova. Most likely Sharapova will expect it.

Lindsay Davenport has noticed how this teenager and others are so poised and confident. "They're amazing," Davenport said. "They really have a belief in themselves when they're so young."

Sharapova knows she is a good player and expects to win Wimbledon. Maybe not this year, but possibly next. Or the year after that.

While Williams, 22, is bidding for her third consecutive Wimbledon title and senses expectations are so high she will be labeled a failure if she doesn't win, Sharapova has dashed into the limelight with her forehand blazing and her path carefully plotted by coaches, agents and her father, Yuri.

"When I first came out, I was shy and I didn't think I belonged," said Davenport, who lost to Sharapova in the semifinals. "I didn't have the confidence these girls have."

What it means is that a young woman from Siberia whose family moved to a seaside city to escape the fallout from the Chernobyl nuclear accident can find a new life by traveling to Florida and California for tennis instruction.

What it means is that, in a semifinal Thursday at Wimbledon, Sharapova was treated to the same cheers rock stars receive because she has great endurance and a devastating forehand, and because she speaks excellent English and wears sexily elegant clothing.

What it means is that players such as Sharapova and 16-year-old Tatiana Golovin don't dismiss former bombshell Anna Kournikova because Kournikova never won a tournament. They admire Kournikova. They just want to be better.

Her opponent understands.

Serena Williams and her sister, Venus, have taken pleasure in unveiling new outfits and jewelry and hair colors at each Grand Slam event, but they've been about more than appearance. They've combined to win 10 Grand Slam titles between them, and neither has turned 25.

Yet Williams sees Sharapova's lack of experience and reserve of confidence as something to be nostalgic about.

"When you're younger, you have nothing to lose," she said. "It's like you can go for broke. Then you get a little older and it's like, `OK, I'm getting older. Have I won a Grand Slam yet?' type situation."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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