Sharapova reigns as U.S. Open champion

No. 3 seed beats Henin-Hardenne for 2nd major title

September 10, 2006|By Jeff Williams | Jeff Williams,Newsday

New York -- She feels pretty, and why not.

Maria Sharapova, as much beast as beauty, won the U.S. Open women's title last night with an imposing and impressive 6-4, 6-4 victory over five-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin-Hardenne at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Wearing her black evening dress, inspired by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Sharapova dined on a menu of savory serves, sumptuous returns and a delicious forehand that kept Henin-Hardenne at bay.

Nike, one of her chief sponsors, was trying to make hay during this tournament with a commercial that featured Sharapova going from hotel to tennis court accompanied by the song "I Feel Pretty." The title was hollered often and loudly by fans during this two-week run. But like the commercial's conclusion, it came down to Sharapova's unquestioned competitive fire. Her game wasn't so much pretty as persistent, and it had Henin-Hardenne impressed.

"She played great the last two weeks," Henin-Hardenne said. "She really deserves her victory. The best player won tonight."

Sharapova, the third seed, jumped and screamed like a teenager after her victory.

Then again, that's exactly what she is, a 19-year-old who has now backed up her Wimbledon win in 2004. And she did it, she said, "In my favorite city in the world in front of the best fans."

Sharapova won the first set, not by overpowering Henin-Hardenne, but by playing the smart, controlled tennis that Henin-Hardenne is known for. Sharapova didn't lose her composure or her control after being broken on her first serve to trail 2-0. She broke right back in the third game. Sharapova broke again in the ninth game, using strong returns of serve and closing it out with a powerful forehand deep in the corner, just one of many forehands that Henin-Hardenne either couldn't run down or couldn't handle.

After a tense battle in the second set, Sharapova scored a break in the seventh game as Henin-Hardenne made errors on the longer rallies by going for big shots that she didn't pull off. Again, it was Sharapova controlling herself and keeping control of the match.

Henin-Hardenne is the seventh woman to play in all four Grand Slam finals in a single year.

She had to retire from the Australian Open final this year against Amelie Mauresmo with stomach pains brought on, it is thought, by painkillers taken for a sore shoulder. She won the French Open, defeating Sveltana Kuznetzova in the final. She then lost the Wimbledon final to Mauresmo.

Sharapova has had a consistently impressive year, though she has not been able to reach a Grand Slam final and last night's final was her first since she won the Wimbledon title. She had lost five straight semifinal matches in major tournaments. Sharapova has won two titles this year and has reached the semifinals of 10 out of 11 tournaments.

Sharapova's father, Yuri, her coach, sat uncommonly calm in the friends box wearing a T-shirt that read "I feel pretty relaxed."

During the tournament he was often seen signaling his daughter with a banana or a water bottle, and Maria would eat or drink on cue. The U.S. Tennis Association does not consider Yuri to be illegally coaching his daughter; the USTA's stance is that those actions don't constitute tennis instruction, though the chair umpire has the ability to rule on those matters.

"I'd like to thank Billie Jean King," she said of the tennis legend whose name is now attached to the National Tennis Center. "Without her we wouldn't be standing here today."

Now Maria Sharapova is the last woman standing at the Open, feeling pretty darn pretty.

Jeff Williams writes for Newsday.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.