Sharapova finishes stunning run by stinging S. Williams, 6-1, 6-4

13th seed, 17, joins elite ranks with first Wimbledon crown

July 04, 2004|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WIMBLEDON, England -- With poise and power, with guts and a grin, Maria Sharapova dissected Serena Williams' game yesterday in a way no one has done.

From first point until last -- with the forehand her opponents used to pick on to a serve that caressed corners -- Sharapova kept the two-time defending titlist hitting off her back foot, running the wrong way, stumbling and tumbling in a futile chase for balls hit too hard and too well.

Sharapova, a 17-year-old from Siberia by way of the Nick Bollittieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., and South Bay Tennis Center in Torrance, Calif., handed Williams, 22, an old-fashioned drubbing on Centre Court in the Wimbledon women's final.

The score was 6-1, 6-4 and, at the end, the 13th-seeded Sharapova ran into the stands to bury her head in the shoulder of her father.

It was a record-setting day for the teenager. She became the first Russian to win a Wimbledon singles title and the lowest seed to take the women's crown.

She is also the third-youngest champion -- Lottie Dod was 15 when she won the 1887 title and Martina Hingis was 16 when she won in 1997.

When the Duke of Kent presented Sharapova with the Venus Rosewater dish, which is traditionally held up to the fans by the winner, Sharapova turned to Williams, who had put her arm around Sharapova at the net, and said, "I have to take this trophy from you for one year. I'm sorry. I'm sure we're going to be here one more time and hopefully many more times in other Grand Slams and fight for the trophy."

She has told her story so often these past two weeks -- a life in Siberia disrupted by the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a family uprooted to the United States with $700 and a dream that their hard-working daughter might learn more about tennis while being shepherded by eager handlers from the IMG management company -- that she had begun asking reporters to check the transcripts rather than ask the same questions.

But the story is compellinig and Sharapova's rise has been meteoric.

Like many in the parade of young tennis stars -- Jennifer Capriati, Monica Seles, Venus and Serena Williams -- the 6-foot Sharapova has developed a power game from the backcourt. But she also has enviable poise, the looks to have earned a modeling contract and a will to fight that one of her coaches, Robert Lansdorp, calls "unteachable."

Lansdorp has given a strong base of fundamentals to five Grand Slam champions -- Tracy Austin, Pete Sampras, Lindsay Davenport, Anastasia Myskina and Sharapova. He said her father, Yuri, had seen Davenport win the 1998 U.S. Open and wanted his daughter to hit her ground strokes with the same pace and depth.

Soon, Yuri and Maria were traveling to Torrance, living in extended-stay hotels so that Maria could hit thousands of balls under the eyes of Lansdorp.

She was 11 and Landsdorp discovered two things. The girl would look him square in the eyes and stare daggers at him if she was unhappy or bored.

And, Lansdorp said, "She was always a money player in my eyes. She didn't like the repetition of practice. So one day I said, `I'll give you 10 bucks if you can hit the target.' All of a sudden she was trying so hard. She has the record of forehands, hitting the target eight of 10 times. She's so proud of that fact."

Sharapova hit all the targets yesterday. She moved Williams everywhere: forward and back, side to side. Twice, when Williams went to the net, Sharapova froze her there with lazy lobs that landed on the baseline.

Lansdorp, who watched the match on television in Southern California, said he was impressed with how Sharapova was the aggressor from the start. "I really think that with the pace of the ball Maria hit and with the depth, she put Serena in an uncomfortable zone," Lansdorp said.

There was one point at which it seemed Williams might crawl back into the match.

In the sixth game of the second set, for the first and only time, Williams broke Sharapova's serve to take a 4-2 lead. Williams threw back her head and yelled exultantly. But in the next game, with stunning suddenness, Sharapova got the break back when Williams could win only one point on her serve.

And in the ninth game of the set, facing a break point again, Williams hit a big serve on which Sharapova could only manage a weak return. The ball sat up, begging for Williams to crush it, but she slipped on the wet grass and fell, and one game later Sharapova served out the match.

Williams was gracious afterward. "I was really happy for her," she said. "I know that feeling and that moment. There's no better feeling than that."

The women's tour has been in need of this sort of breakthrough player. Serena and her sister, Venus, missed much of last year with injuries and in mourning for the death of their half sister. Their major rivals, Belgian countrywomen Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, didn't play in the French Open or Wimbledon because of their own health and injury issues.

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