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Sharapova takes Pan Pacific title

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova's victory in Tokyo earned her a £220,000 top prize

Maria Sharapova sealed her first title since her lengthy injury lay-off after Jelena Jankovic retired in the final of the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.

The 22-year-old Russian was leading 5-2 in the first set when Serbian seventh seed Jankovic was forced to withdraw with a recurrence of a shoulder injury.

It handed Sharapova, who only returned to action in May, her first tournament win since Amelia Island in April 2008.

"It was my second final of the year, so I was a bit nervous," Sharapova said.

"It was very tough because Jelena started off so strong."

It was her fifth career victory over Jankovic in seven meetings.

Both players are former world number ones, but both have had a tough season.

Former champion Sharapova came into the tournament unseeded after fighting back from arthroscopic surgery to repair a rotator cuff in her right shoulder nearly a year ago.

Ranked 25th in the world, she is yet to rediscover the form that has earned her three Grand Slam singles titles, although she did reach the final in Toronto in August, losing to Olympic champion Elena Dementieva in the final.

"It's never easy to win a match like this. It was my second final of the year, so I was a little bit nervous."

Maria Sharapova: tennis still my driving force

The former champion admits that she is still bothered by the shoulder injury that forced her out of tennis for seven months

Maria Sharapova puts the kettle on. OK, it is an everyday occurrence in most households across the land, but we are days from Wimbledon, she is in the sitting room of the home she rents a couple of streets from the All England Club and, unwinding, utterly relaxed. And, catching you off guard, she asks whether you take sugar.

Usually, yes, but for some reason I say no. Silly, really. I suppose it is simply seeing this famed Russian, the winner of three grand-slam tournaments, who won Wimbledon five years ago as a 17-year-old and went on to become the most photographed player of the modern age, letting her hair down and doing the domestic chores. Then the realisation dawns that it is lucky she is here at all, eight months on from the shoulder surgery that gave her a second chance at tennis — one she certainly does not intend to waste. Over the house, a storm is breaking. She pulls the window closed a notch or two to stop the rain from splashing her. There is no one on the street below, which reminds her of 2002, the first time she played at Wimbledon, in the juniors.

“I was here with both my parents, I had lost the final, it was dark by then, we were leaving the courts and the place was deserted, it was as though the event hadn’t existed,” she says. “Then I had this strange feeling inside me. I was going to be back and I was going to be back a winner.”

Two years on she was as good as those emotions. The 2004 champion, beating Serena Williams in the final, the mobile phone call to her mother, who was on a flight from Florida to New York, peering at the back of the seat in front of her and disbelieving that the next time her phone rang, it was Centre Court calling. “It seems for ever ago,” Maria says. “I was a little girl.”

Sharapova has gone on from the “little girl” to become a very big girl; a multimillionairess with a face that endorses soap, shoes and sunshine. But there has remained throughout an endearing side to her nature, for while the essence of her career is ferocious commitment, seeing her uncoiled in a soft chair reminds you that there has always been a degree of vulnerability to her, one heightened by the shoulder operation she had to face last October.

She had been playing for months with a small rotator cuff tear in her right shoulder and an operation was the only option. She did not play from last August until March and her ranking, which slipped to No 126 in May, is back to 59. One wondered if, after three tournaments, she can play now without thinking about her injury. “Hmmm, no, not quite,” she replies.

Two pieces of plaster cover the top of her right shoulder when she plays. “I’m so loose-jointed, most of the physios I’ve been to put my arms into all sorts of positions,” she says. “But I was always flexible, which is why I was able to serve so well. I don’t have as great a muscle definition as a lot of the girls and a body is not built to serve as many serves as I have at 22. I’ve had to change my service motion but it’s not something I like to do.”

Has her enjoyment of “the tennis process” lessened given her time away? “I’d jokingly say that if I was a swimsuit model and all I needed was a magazine to put me on the front page and that’s my career . . .” she says. “No, I’d still have had the surgery. Tennis is the driving force of my life, going out, competing and fighting. I couldn’t rely on others to get results in my life. When I am on the front of magazines, I got there because of winning tennis matches.”

When Sharapova won the 2008 Australian Open, Yuri decided to take a backwards step from her career. Michael Joyce, the American coach with whom she has been for five years, is front and centre now. But Dad remains a guiding influence — “his was the last call I took before you arrived,” she said — even though he is into extreme sports these days. “Oh, my dad,” she says. “He’s off hiking somewhere in the Californian mountains with my mum. He is a free spirit. But he still called me last week wondering how he could get live scores from Birmingham. And you know what? He thinks by watching live scores, he knows how I’m playing.”

Of free spirits, Sharapova is right up there. Entering Wimbledon this year, few give her a chance of lasting into the second week. Others have written off her career altogether. “If I didn’t believe in me, I wouldn’t be here,” she says. “If Michael didn’t believe in me, he wouldn’t spend 11 months a year travelling. I’ve sat through a lot of tennis in the past ten months, there have been some good matches and there are many s*** sandwiches. I reached the semi-finals of the French Open a couple of years ago serving at 80mph. There are no words that can be written or said that can discourage me. I could probably go on to the internet now and read plenty of discouraging words. But, you know what, I’m still here.” She takes my cup. “I’ll wash up,” she says. You wouldn’t hear of it.

Sharapova Wins Third Grand Slam Title With Victory In Australian Open


Melbourne, Australia (AHN) - Maria Sharapova won the Australian Open on Saturday as she defeated Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 6-3.

The win was the third Grand Slam title of the 20-year-old Russian's career and it marked one of the best Australian Opens for a female ever as Sharapova did not lose a set once in the prestigious tournament this year.

Saturday's match between Sharapova and Ivanovic was typical of the six other matches the sixth-ranked Russian faced in order to get to the championship round as she used an aggressive game to take the lead and then never looked back.

The only time things looked dire on Saturday for Sharapova was when she fell behind 4-3 in the first set after committing three double faults on her serve, which helped the fourth-ranked Ivanovic, pick up a break.

The misstep only galvanized Sharapova though as she won the last three games of the set and then easily won the second set.

After the match was over, the Russian became rather emotional as the Grand Slam win came after a tough end to last year in which she lost the No. 1 ranking because of a shoulder injury that hindered her play.

Tears welled up in Sharapova's eyes as she was interviewed on the court after defeating Ivanovic.

"I'm very emotional and you guys made it a very special experience for me," she said.

While Sharapova was gracious in her post-match comments, she was much different on the tennis court this year at the Open as she was utterly dominating.

Not including Saturday's match, she never lost more than five games in a set and she actually won three sets by a 6-0 score.

Her best tennis came after the third round where she played some of the best tennis players in the world but beat them handily.

Sharapova defeated Elena Demetieva 6-2, 6-0 in the fourth round, Justin Henin 6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals, and Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals.

Sharapova victorious in San Diego

Maria Sharapova

Sharapova used sharp ground strokes to capture her first championship since winning at Linz, Austria, in October.

Schnyder, the 11th seed, struggled early as Sharapova consistently hit the lines with forehands and backhands.

The defending champion dropped her first set of the tournament in the second but broke Schnyder in the second and fourth games of the third.

"In the first set I hit some really good shots when she was serving and that opened doors for me," said the 20-year-old Sharapova.

Russia drop Sharapova for Fed Cup

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova has been dropped from the Russia team for the Fed Cup final against Italy in Moscow in September.

The world number two angered Russian tennis officials after pulling out of last week's semi-final at the last minute, saying she was not fit.

"I feel it just wouldn't be right to invite Sharapova this time," said Russia team captain Shamil Tarpishchev.

Asked if he would pick Sharapova next year, Tarpishchev said he would review the situation at the end of the season.

Florida-based Sharapova is yet to make a Fed Cup appearance for her native country.

The 20-year-old also pulled out of the first-round tie against Spain in April.

Sharapova smoothly moves into third round

WIMBLEDON, England -- Less than three months after her 17th birthday, Maria Sharapova shrieked through the Wimbledon field -- quite literally -- beating former champions Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals and Serena Williams in the final.

That was three years ago, an eternity for Sharapova.

"I mean, I get goose bumps every time I drive through the Village, I see my name on the board by the trophies," Sharapova said. "It's an incredible feeling. I don't know, it's a bit surreal because I feel like it happened so long ago.

"When I do see my name, it's a bit of a reality check because I'm like, 'Yes, that did really happen.' Every year I get my [All England Club] member's badge. I'm like, 'Ha, ha.' It's really special because you don't think about it on a daily basis: 'Wow, I'm a Wimbledon champion.'"

She is 20 now, and an established star, and not just in tennis. Last fall, she left behind the tenuous title of one-hit wonder -- goodbye, Iva Majoli, Jana Novotna and Gabriela Sabatini -- when she won the U.S. Open. Now, the question begs itself, can she win a third Grand Slam title here at Wimbledon?

Although there are only two obvious contenders on the men's side (No. 1 Roger Federer and No. 2 Rafael Nadal), the women's field features a six-horse race: Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo, Serena and Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic -- and Sharapova.

Maria Sharapova

AP Photo/Alastair Grant

After winning Wimbledon in 2004, Maria Sharapova has fallen in the semifinals the last two years.

The No. 2 seed handled Severine Bremond of France 6-0, 6-3 on Thursday. The victory was more of an accomplishment than it might appear. Bremond, who had never been beyond the second round of a Grand Slam event, reached the quarterfinals here last year.

"She has good slice, serves and volleys," Sharapova said. "In the past, when I used to play those kinds of opponents, I wasn't patient enough. I used to go for too much off slices, try to win the point as quickly as I could. When you guys ask me what I've been improving, that's definitely one of the things."

Sharapova is blissfully comfortable here on the green lawns of the All England Club. Her heavy serve and flat groundstrokes play well on the fast courts. The record here is a sizzling 22-3; after reaching the fourth round in her 2003 debut, she hasn't failed to reach the semifinals in the past three tournaments.

That won't be easy this year because she's on course to meet Venus Williams in the fourth round, Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, Mauresmo in the semifinals, then Henin, Serena Williams or Jankovic in the final.

Winning would salvage what has been a curiously unsatisfying season in which she has failed to win a tournament. Sharapova won her first six matches in the Australian Open, but the only one people remember was the seventh -- when she was embarrassed by Serena Williams, 6-1, 6-2, in the final. It happened again in the round of 16 at Miami, when Williams won 6-1, 6-1.

At the French Open, playing on the surface least friendly to her game, Sharapova surprisingly reached the semifinals before losing to Ana Ivanovic. In the grass warm-up at Birmingham, she won four matches before Jankovic took her out in a spirited three-set final.

Although most eyes will be on Sharapova's "Swan Lake"-inspired dress, the real focus should be on her right shoulder. After injuring it in Miami back in March, she played only three tournaments before Wimbledon. Her serve is affected most and, although it gradually has grown stronger, it still isn't full speed.

Against Bremond, Sharapova had only one ace and her average first serve traveled 98 miles per hour; by contrast, Venus Williams' averaged 110 miles per hour. But placement always has been more important than pure speed for Sharapova. She did not lose a single service game.

O'Brien made to wait for her day in the sun



In the watery half-light of Wimbledon last night, Katie O'Brien found herself at a watershed. All day she had been waiting for the test of her young career - a grand slam date against Michaella Krajicek, once the world's top junior, and a chance to cement her ascendancy after the ritual first-round slaughter of Britain's female wild cards. Sadly, it rained on her parade, but this likeable 21-year-old took strength from her view that she had done her ill-starred compatriots a "favour".



O'Brien, selfless and patriotic to the core, did not mean this in a scornful sense. Indeed, she attributed a convincing first win in SW19 more to a favourable draw than to her own flourishing game. Those watching the assured technique with which she dispatched Germany's Sandra Kloesel, a player on the cusp of the world's top 100, might have begged to differ. Still, the most accurate gauge of such progress will be how she handles Krajicek, the 31st seed and half-sister of Richard, a former Wimbledon champion.

Aged 21 and adjusting to her status as the British No 1, O'Brien is distinguished, despite routine setbacks, by an unflinching devotion to her sport. But do not think this makes her one-dimensional - there have been many avenues open to her. A straight-As pupil while at school in Yorkshire, she could easily have swapped the vagaries of the tennis circuit for the stability of a university place. Did she make the right choice?

"In the end, I think tennis is a unique opportunity," she said. "I wouldn't change it for the world. There's so much success to be had in tennis, so many opportunities. There's no reason why I might not pursue an academic career later in my career, but while I've still got this chance, I'm going to take the tennis as far as I can."

You could not deny she has taken it far in the past year. She has been exploring the farthest extremities of the circuit, trying to gain ranking points at Japanese satellite tournaments, often as the sole Briton in the field. The Lawn Tennis Association are understood to regard her No 1 standing as genuine, and intend to reward it by assigning a dedicated coach to her once she breaks the world's top 75.

Sharapova survives ugly duckling moments



Much of the pre-match publicity had centred around a heavily-pleated, all-white dress which she had talked up as being "Swan Lake-inspired". But Maria Sharapova's opening round was not exactly as serene as a swan gliding across the water. She had to work, flap and splash a little last night. And, anyway, when was the last time a swan grunted like she does?




So Sharapova, a former champion and the second seed, did not just have a bespoke clothes launch on Court One; she had a tennis match as well. Although it never once seemed as though the 20-year-old was going to lose, she did have more to do in the second set on the way to a 6-1, 7-5 defeat of Taiwan's Yung-Jan Chan, an opponent who looked as though she gets all her outfits off the rail.

"My dress is Swan Lake-inspired," Sharapova had said. "My coach saw it the other day, and he started feeding bread to it, so he got it." Still, Sharapova, for all her love of fashion, would not have minded having to scrap a little. She loves competition more than she loves new dresses. And you could tell that the match was closer in the second set just by listening to the soundtrack. It is when the Siberian starts to feel a bit more tense that she ups the volume of her shrieks, grunts and other assorted noises. She sounded less like a swan, more like an angry parakeet.

One concern for Sharapova during the Wimbledon fortnight is what effect her sore shoulder will have on her serve. She certainly appeared to have taken some of the pace off her delivery against Chan. However, as she has said, she has never had a searing serve, so relying a bit more on placement probably has not hurt her overall game too much. Also, while Serena Williams was slightly irritated this week when her father, Richard, revealed that she had a slight hamstring problem, Sharapova has no problem with admitting that she is not fully fit. Still, she can hardly say otherwise, having been off the tour for a couple of months with the injury.

"Doctors said that it doesn't matter if I play on through it," Sharapova said last night. "Some days I don't have as much confidence in my arm. In these conditions here, I might have to be on anti-inflammatory tablets, as the conditions here are cold, and the balls feel heavy. But I saw the doctors before I came here and they gave me the green light. But when I'm not healthy, I'm not happy. And it's not good to go on court when you're not happy."


Sharapova backs home town for 2014 Olympics bid


MOSCOW (Reuters) - Maria Sharapova has backed her former Russian home town to win the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympics, saying she began her tennis career in Sochi after nearly becoming a figure skater.

The 2004 Wimbledon champion was born in Siberia in 1987 before moving to Sochi two years later and spending the next five years in the Black Sea resort.

"Sochi has a big place in my heart... I started my tennis career there," Sharapova told Reuters television ahead of next week's vote to determine the host city.

At its July 4 session in Guatemala, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will name the 2014 hosts in a three-way race between Sochi, the Austrian city of Salzburg and South Korea's Pyeongchang.

"This is just an incredible opportunity for the athletes who play winter sports," said U.S. Open champion Sharapova, who was made an ambassador for Sochi's Olympic bid earlier this year.

"The Olympics used to be my favourite to watch. I probably watch more Olympics (sport) than I watch actual tennis matches.

"I used to love figure skating and gymnastics because they were two very popular sports in Russia and I always wanted to be a figure skater when I was young so this is actually pretty coincidental," she added.

"So I am very honoured to be a part of it and be an ambassador for it."

The Florida-based Russian said she was trying to convince all her friends to come and visit Sochi.

"My message is to get around the world how great the place really is and it would be an incredible legacy to bring the Winter Olympics to our country, considering our country's achievements in winter sports," she said.

Hingis downplays Wimbledon chances


LONDON (Reuters) - Ninth seed Martina Hingis wrote off her chances of winning a second Wimbledon title even after her 6-7 7-5 6-0 win over British wildcard Naomi Cavaday in the first round on Monday.

Hingis has been sidelined for five weeks with a back injury and struggled against Cavaday, who forced two match points on the Swiss's serve in the second set.

"I don't see myself right now after today's match as a contender," Hingis, who won the title as a 16-year-old 10 years ago, told a news conference.

Hingis said her doctor had put her at only 60 to 70 percent fit but the world number 11, who returned to tennis in 2006 after three years out, could not bear to miss the grasscourt grand slam.

"It's an inflammation in the femur bone. Usually it takes six to eight weeks but I'm like, I don't want to miss out on Wimbledon no matter what happens," the five-times grand slam winner said.

"I was happy he told me I can't make it worse," she added.

"But I'm happy to be able to run and walk and play tennis again. I wasn't able to do that five weeks ago."

Hingis was slow to settle in the cold, drizzly conditions against Cavaday when play finally started two hours and 45 minutes late because of rain.

The British teenager, ranked 221 places below her opponent, broke the out-of-sorts Hingis in her first two service games for a 3-0 lead and then eased through the first set tiebreak 7-1.

But once the Swiss had saved the two match points, the 1997 winner did not look like becoming the latest big name to fall on court two, known as 'the graveyard of the champions'.

Hingis whizzed through the third set as Cavaday ran out of steam.

"I was just like, 'no, this is not going to happen to me, not here again at Wimbledon'," Hingis said when asked what was going through her mind at match point against her.

"I've never lost on court two. I know it's a graveyard of champions but it's never been to me. I played really good on those two points.

"After that, it was just a pretty smooth ride. Somehow I never felt 'okay, she's on top of me'. I was always hanging in there. It was never on my mind that I was going to lose."


Hingis wary of Kent wildcard


Can Hingis compete effectively at Wimbledon 2007?
Can Hingis compete effectively
at Wimbledon 2007?

Former Wimbledon champion Martina Hingis insists that she will not be taking British teenager Naomi Cavaday lightly when the pair square up for their high-noon showdown at the All England Club on the opening day of the Championships.

Hingis has been out with a thigh injury since the Berlin Open in early May and admits that, after a trying spell on the sidelines, she will be leaving nothing to chance against 18-year-old Cavaday.

Hingis said: "The injury set me back a little bit, and I haven't had the matches I wish I had, but I'm excited just to be able to run and play. I have sno plans about the girl I'm playing, because I haven't seen her, I haven't ever played her before and she's a wild card, a British hope I guess."

"I'm going to enjoy the moment because I'm just happy to be playing at Wimbledon. It'll be a good match and will hopefully live up to the expectations."

Cavaday, who was granted a wild card for Wimbledon because her current world ranking of 232 is too low to gain direct entry, will be hoping to build on last year's encouraging first-round performance against world number 27 Ai Sugiyama, to whom she lost a hard-fought encounter 6-4 7-5.

Sharapova ready for Wimbledon

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova is confident her recent injury problems are behind her as she bids for a second Wimbledon title next week.

Earlier this year, the Russian world number two was struggling with a hamstring problem, and more recently her shoulder has also led to an enforced break.

"It [the shoulder] will be under observation for the next few weeks, but that is all part of a tennis player's life," said Sharapova, who reached the final of the DFS Classic in Birmingham last weekend. "I am just happy to be back on the court and coming back to Wimbledon."

With London set to host the Olympics in 2012, the Russian could one day be back at the All England Club looking for a gold medal.

"I would love to because that will be played on Centre Court at Wimbledon, which would be amazing," added Sharapova.

"It is five years from now, but you never know."

Putin, Sharapova supporting Russian city Sochi's bid for 2014 Games

      MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to Guatemala next month to back Sochi's bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Russia's Maria Sharapova smiles as she poses for photographers after a short skills session on a specially made tennis court near Tower Bridge, London, Thursday. Sharapova was at the event to show her support for the 2014 bid for the Winter Olympics from the Russian city of Sochi. (Tom Hevezi, Associated Press)
Tom Hevezi, Associated Press
Russia's Maria Sharapova smiles as she poses for photographers after a short skills session on a specially made tennis court near Tower Bridge, London, Thursday. Sharapova was at the event to show her support for the 2014 bid for the Winter Olympics from the Russian city of Sochi.
      Sochi is competing against Salzburg, Austria, and Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the winner will be selected on July 4 at an International Olympic Committee assembly in Guatemala City. Putin will travel to Guatemala on a working visit July 3-4, the Kremlin said Thursday.
      Sochi bid chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said Putin would be part of the formal presentation to the IOC assembly on the day of the vote.
      "For him it's a personal challenge," he said.
      Chernyshenko was in London to promote the bid along with Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion who lived in Sochi for five years before moving to the United States at 7.
      "I left Russia for the U.S. because of a lack of facilities," said Sharapova, who is seeded No. 2 at Wimbledon, which begins Monday. "If we win the Olympics, it will bring such an amazing opportunity for young people. It will give young kids the chance to stay in their country with their family and not have to go to another country to develop their dreams."
      The Black Sea resort of Sochi seeks to bring the Winter Games to Russia for the first time, and it has strong support from Putin.
      Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer also will travel to Guatemala for the vote, Austrian officials said.
      The presence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the IOC session in Singapore in 2005 was considered as a key factor in London's victory for the 2012 Summer Games. Russia was the only country that did not send its leader to the vote to support Moscow's bid.

Sharapova Looks to Help with Chernobyl Charity

Maria Sharapova

With fame comes responsibility and when you are just 17 years old and that fame hits you like a 10-ton truck, the responsibilities can be overwhelming. Professional sport is littered with tales of young talent crushed by the weight of public demand, personal expectation and commercial pressure.

When Maria Sharapova was just 17, she shot to superstardom by beating Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final. The marketing men had already targeted her as a potential “cross-over celebrity” while those who deal only in forehands and backhands had earmarked her for possible success. When she won the world’s most prestigious tournament, and did so by beating one of the sport’s biggest names, Sharapova hit the jackpot. Not that it seemed to faze her in the slightest.

Sharapova is now 20 and, she thinks, happy to be out of her teenage years. A brief two decades on the planet seldom brings with it wisdom and understanding but the former champion has always been a strange mixture of perfectly normal young woman and extremely grown-up, mature spirit.

Competitive from the top of her expensively coiffured head to the tips of her four-inch stilettos, she has always been driven to succeed. Outsiders may attribute that to the influence of her father, Yuri, who took his daughter to the United States when she was just seven. The aim was to turn the young Maria into a tennis star and the story of how they started out on the road to fame and fortune with just a fistful of dollars between them has been told and retold. But Sharapova is convinced the will to win comes from within.

“I never had another sport interest,” she said. “Even though my dad played ice hockey, I've never been on an ice rink before. And I'm from Siberia. Go figure.”

Even though she has spent most of her life in America and speaks with a mid-Atlantic twang, Sharapova is most definitely Russian (and even signed up to play Fed Cup for her home country this year until injury intervened). Fascinated by the range of sporting activities and opportunities available to American youngsters, she knows that her drive to succeed is rooted in a foreign land.

“In Russia I don't think you have that many openings,” she said. “People are often pretty far from where the training facilities are so they always have to make the commitment to do something. So when they do – figure skating and gymnastics are very big in our country – they won't necessarily play any other sport with that.”

Her homeland is seldom far from her thoughts so when she started her own charitable foundation and was the appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Development Programme.

"I'm helping the Chernobyl-affected area," she said. "It's something very close to me because when my mom was pregnant she was in Belarus, and we left Belarus to Siberia because of Chernobyl and the radiation. I feel that's very important when you're part of a project that you feel very close to it.

"When I look at the facts about how many people are still affected and the people that die, and what's going on - it's pretty incredible. You want to help any way you can because you're lucky that you're still alive."


Sharapova eyes Wimbledon


MARIA SHARAPOVA believes her grasscourt game is shaping up well a week ahead of Wimbledon despite her defeat in the Birmingham final at the hands of Serbia's Jelena Jankovic.

Jankovic won Sunday's final 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 to deny Sharapova a third title in the English Midlands, but the world No 2 was delighted that her injured shoulder stood up to the strain of having to play four matches in two days.

"I can only take good things away from the match. I've improved tremendously and I'm a much better grass court player than I was four matches ago," said Sharapova whose heavy weekend workload was caused by rain.

Jankovic, the world No 4, was delighted to have wrapped up her fourth title of 2007. "I just tried to stay positive out there and that's what helped me win the match," said the Serbian.

"I'm so happy this is my first title on grass. My fourth one this year, and now I have titles on three different surfaces hard, grass and clay so it's a good thing for me."AFP

Maria Sharapova

Solid preparation ... Maria Sharapova (File photo) (Getty Images)

Sharapova cruising towards Wimbledon

Maria Sharapova braved the rain and cold of the English Midlands overnight to come through two matches as she stepped up her Wimbledon preparations at the Birmingham grass court event.

The top seed was forced to play her third round and quarter-final ties after rain had played havoc with the schedule.

The Russian struggled to see off 16-year-old Austrian Tamira Paszek 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 before returning to the courts later in the day to defeat veteran compatriot Elena Likhovtseva 6-2, 6-3 to book a semi-final spot.

On Sunday night (Australian time) she will meet either Daniela Hantuchova or Marion Bartoli, who were unable to start their quarter-final, in the last four.

Jelena Jankovic faces Mara Santangelo in the other semi-final.

"So far so good," said Sharapova who is still receiving treatment for a shoulder injury.

"I'm getting there. I felt a bit better, especially in my second match.

"It's tough coming out after not playing for two days and playing your best tennis. I did get a little sloppy in my first match. I was up a set and a break and I guess I lost my concentration for a bit.

"I played a really good, solid third set and then in the second game I was hitting the ball more. After not playing for two days, all you want to do is a to get a rhythm out there.

"I'm here to play matches and that's exactly what I did. I got five sets today."

Italy's Santangelo became the first player to reach the last four when she defeated China's Li Na 6-2, 7-5 to set up a fourth meeting of 2007 with Jankovic.

Jankovic made it six wins out of six in the last 12 months in her meetings with Ukraine's Alona Bondarenko thanks to a 6-4 6-3 victory.


Sharapova stays fresh


In mint condition in her mint-green top, Maria Sharapova strode through her first grasscourt test yesterday with effortless elegance, refusing even to allow a customary shriek to pass her lips. So much for the suspect right shoulder. Luxuriating in the ease of her win at Edgbaston yesterday, she responded to any mention of an injury with not so much a wince as a shrug.

Maria Sharapova at the DFS Classic: Sharapova stays fresh
Crowd-pleasing: Maria Sharapova loves playing in intimate grounds

As so often on grass, Sharapova's victory took the concept of survival of the fittest to embarrassing extremes. American qualifier Lilia Osterloh had the misfortune to be caught in the Russian's long shadow, and yet she did little wrong. Indeed, she had the temerity to earn three break points in the first game, but her resistance was crushed with such indecent haste that in just over an hour she was on the sharp end of a 6-4, 6-0 scoreline and cast as another hapless victim.

For Osterloh, Edgbaston's centre court was a crucible, but Sharapova regarded it simply as one of those quaint English arenas in which she could flaunt her gifts at close quarters. "It's one of the smallest stadiums I play all year," she said. "It's very intimate, and I love that."

Her only anxiety concerned making a satisfying transition from the pressing clay-court technique to the abbreviated rallies that are a feature on the Birmingham lawns. She need not have worried, for her deep serves and crisp ground-strokes were much too powerful a cocktail for an opponent ranked outside the world's top 100.

The question of ranking acquires a particular resonance at this stage in the season, as Britain's Naomi Cavaday was to discover. Her first-round success against a player in the top 70 had set off a faint flutter of excitement at the DFS Classic, but pit her against a top-20 talent, in the shape of France's Marion Bartoli and the balance shifts all too quickly. Expectation is a dangerous game on this surface - Cavaday, only 18, received top billing yesterday behind Sharapova and Jelena Jankovic, but was soon swatted away 6-3, 6-1.

Gone in 68 minutes - a chastening challenge to Cavaday's ambitions, although her realism belies her years. "If you're playing girls at this level, you have perhaps one chance, and if you don't take it you're not going to have another very easily. Breaking the top 20 is tough, that's a true ranking. I'm at 240, so there's a long way to go. But I wasn't nervous, and everyone was on my side, so how can that be a bad thing?" Her sanguine outlook could owe much to the help of David Felgate, Tim Henman's former coach and Cavaday's mentor whenever she is not pounding the courts in Florida. "He has been a key part of my progress over the last six months," she said. "He's a very positive person and has valuable grasscourt experience, so I'm hoping to capitalise on what he has to offer."

Felgate, when asked to assess his latest charge, was similarly measured. "She has some talent, but you have to keep a sense of perspective as she has come into the game later than some girls at the top," he explained. "You don't want to put the hopes of a nation on anyone's shoulders." His honesty is arguably the best policy, but the prospect of another Wimbledon in which Britain's women stand not the slightest chance of making the second week leaves a nation living less in hope than ever.


Sharapova upbeat on grass return

Maria Sharapova training in Birmingham

Maria Sharapova believes her ability on grass will boost her bid to recover form after a shoulder injury to take her second Wimbledon title next month.

French Open semi-finalist Sharapova returns to her favourite surface in Birmingham on Wednesday.

"I've done it before so I can do it again. Grass definitely suits my game.

"I did it three years ago when I was the size of spaghetti, so I definitely can do it now - I'm definitely stronger than I was a year ago," she said.

World number two Sharapova has a bye into the second round of the DFS Classic, where she will play American qualifier Lilia Osterloh.

She insists the enforced injury lay-off earlier this year increased her hunger for more success.

"Being away from the game for almost two months, I was definitely ready to get back and compete," she said.

"The competition is why I play tennis and that's what I miss. You can only practise for so long. There is nothing like being on centre court."

In the first shock of the DFS Classic on Monday, 14th seed Michaella Krajicek was beaten 7-6 6-4 by Ukraine's Juliana Fedak, who is 96 places below her in the world rankings.

Other seeded players, Russian Maria Kirilenko, Eleni Daniilidou of Greece, Ukraine's Julia Vakulenko and American Meilen Tu safely made it past the first hurdle with straight-set wins.

Sharapova gets set

Even though Maria Sharapova wakes up these days not knowing how her inflamed shoulder will feel, there was no hiding the fact that she fancies herself to regain the Wimbledon title.

The more she slid away from placing herself under the pressure of uttering it too brazenly, the more she was manoeuvred into words which made that belief clear. "If I can do it one time, like a few years ago, when I was a little skinny girl, the size of spaghetti, then a few years later I can do it now," she said eventually.It seems that others think so too. More people were watching her first practices of the year on grass than some of the live tennis on the centre court. It was even more evident that the world's most photographed woman athlete still finds the more discreet acclaim from within the tree-encircled Edgbaston Priory Club an annual relief.

"Wimbledon was my biggest win and where I made a name for myself, but the preparation was reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open and winning here at Birmingham," she acknowledged. "So when you return and see the same people it's great."

Even the eccentricities to which most grass courts are prone when they are soft were more tolerable than the loose top of last week's clay which elicited her "cow on ice" remark. "It's always a bit unusual, especially the first few practices," she said. Few women players are as forgiving of the tour's most uncertain surface as that.

But Sharapova believes she can win on it, principally because she is mentally more mature and physically stronger. She is also sometimes more colourful with words. If she is not like spaghetti now, what is she like? "Perhaps penne," she answered. And does she feel different from when she first came, four years ago? "I feel like every time I play on grass I'm part of the history. I feel like grass is the centre of tennis."

But much will depend on how she copes with the regime demanded by her shoulder. "I have to do the right things to make sure the inflammation is low," she said. "If there is a day off you have to be smart and rest. You monitor it because every day you wake up it can be different."

She may be given till tomorrow before she tests it competitively again. Her Wimbledon build-up will begin against Lilia Osterloh, a former top-50 American trying to emulate her career best of seven years ago.

The British wild cards Anne Keothavong, Elena Baltacha and Naomi Cavaday play their first-round games today and all three were yesterday given wild cards by the All England Club for Wimbledon, along with Melanie South. Baltacha is on the comeback trail after back surgery forced her to miss the entire grass-court season in 2006. She has slipped to 11th in the British rankings and to 437th in the world but enjoyed a recall to the British Fed Cup squad in April and won her first-round match at the Surbiton Trophy last week.

Sharapova tormented by her mirror image


If Maria Sharapova has ever wondered what it would be like to play a match against herself on top form, she knows now. Yesterday she met Ana Ivanovic, a player who does what Sharapova has done for years. Only she does it better.

Maria Sharapova tormented by her mirror image
Down and out in Paris: Maria Sharapova feels the pressure

The serve is powerful and from a great height. It is relentlessly accurate. The return is deep, right to her opponent's feet, and the forehand sweeps down the line.

In her prime - how strange it seems to say this of a player barely into her 20s - Sharapova would dismiss an inexperienced opponent with all these qualities. But yesterday she was a pastiche of her former self.

In her three biggest matches this year, Sharapova has fallen to pieces, winning just eight games in all three contests put together.

At the Australian Open, Serena Williams beat her 6-1, 6-2. In Miami, the same opponent beat her 6-1, 6-1 and here the young Serbian was victorious 6-2, 6-1, in just an hour and five minutes.

Something is not right. It is no shame to lose to such an accomplished player, for Ivanovic is surely a grand slam winner in waiting, but to be unable to compete is verging on the bizarre.

Sharapova's torment yesterday was horrible to behold. It has long been said that her power game is unsuited to the red clay of Roland Garros, but she can win here when things are working for her. In this, though, her first semi-final here, nothing was working at all.

One passage of play summed up her plight. Down by a set and three love, Sharapova was serving to establish a finger-hold in the match. Twice, she sent forehands into the net, but she battled her way to deuce. Advantage Sharapova: she hits a forehand wide. Advantage Sharapova: she hits a forehand wide. Advantage Sharapova: she hits a forehand wrong.

Then she double-faulted. Advantage Ivanovic. The crowd started that slow handclap that to English ears sounds sarcastic, but here represents sympathy. Sharapova sent a forehand into the net. Game Ivanovic.

The applause when Sharapova finally registered a game in the second set must have been excruciating for a double grand slam winner to hear, because it was loser's applause, motivated not by admiration but by pity.

Sharapova was sanguine in defeat, accentuating the positive: she had never done this well in Paris, her troublesome shoulder was fine, it had just been one of those days. "I started off slow," she said, "and by the second set the train's already in London."

Where, presumably, she would like to be herself? "I can't say how happy I am when this time of year comes. I hope I'm always healthy when Wimbledon comes, because it's a very special place in my career, in my heart."


No regrets as Sharapova eyes title

Maria Sharapova ゥ Getty ImagesMaria Sharapova is in her first Roland Garros semifinal and as tantalisingly close as she's ever been to a French Open title.

But even if she's doomed never to triumph in a Grand Slam event played on a surface so alien to her game, the Russian insists there are no regrets over her single-minded approach to a job which has brought riches beyond the wildest dreams of other girls her age.

"Why would I want to rewrite it?" she said when asked if she'd ever wished her life story had followed a different script.

Sharapova's personal odyssey is well-documented.

Left Russia for Florida at six with father Yuri, not seeing mother Yelena for two years a consequence.

Third youngest Wimbledon champion, multi-millionairess and the most photographed sportswoman in the world.

All that and she's still to celebrate her 21st birthday.

"I don't know what the other life could have been like," said Sharapova recalling her tough early years.

"I went to a private school for two years, but other than that I've always been home-schooled.

"I never experienced having 10 friends. I've always had about four really close friends. I've never been that social.

"But on the other hand there's not that much to regret because I wake up, go to practice for four, five, six hours a day where I commit myself to my career.

"When I'm done, I'm able to enjoy where I live, my house, my car and all those things I wouldn't be able to have without tennis."

Sharapova reached her first French Open semifinal on Tuesday when she defeated Russian compatriot Anna Chakvetadze 6-3, 6-4.

She marked her victory, which reduced the surly Chakvetadze to tears, by claiming she wouldn't be surprised if she went on to win the title even though most observers have already carved Justine Henin's name into the Roland Garros honours board for a fourth time.

Sharapova, the reigning US Open champion, has always been dismissed as a contender in Paris where the demanding clay surface exposes her problems with movement.

But at the fifth time of asking, she finally managed to break through into the last four where she will face Serbian teenager Ana Ivanovic on Thursday for a place in the final.

"I wouldn't be surprised if I won the tournament," said Sharapova.

"Others might be surprised because I didn't play a lot on clay when I was younger.

"It also doesn't surprise me that I'm in the semifinals. I'm proud to have made it. In every tournament I play, I always believe in myself whether it's on clay or mud. I know what I'm capable of."

Sharapova makes Paris last four

Maria Sharapova

World number two Maria Sharapova advanced to the semi-finals of the French Open for the first time by brushing aside fellow 20-year-old Russian Anna Chakvetadze 6-3 6-4 on Wednesday.

Second seed Sharapova, who feels more at ease on faster surfaces and had never gone beyond the quarter-finals on four previous visits to Roland Garros, needed just 78 minutes to beat her compatriot, seeded ninth.

Chakvetadze, who lost to Sharapova in the quarter-finals of this year's Australian Open, bowed out by firing a backhand return wide on the first match point.

Former Wimbledon champion Sharapova, who is hampered by a sore shoulder and said here she felt like a "cow on ice" on clay, will face Serbia's Ana Ivanovic for a place in the final.

"I was moving really well today and I tried to defend her balls", said Sharapova, who has been fighting a string of injuries and has not won a title this year.

"That's mainly what the key of the match was. I was just retrieving well. I'm happy to be in the semi-final for the first time here in Paris."

Sharapova broke her opponent in the sixth game and stayed on top until taking the set with a forehand winner after 39 minutes.

The pair traded breaks early in the second set, which was tight until Sharapova managed the telling break in the ninth game to serve for the match.

The former world number one said she was expecting a challenge against Ivanovic, who advanced by knocking out last year's runner-up Svetlana Kuznetsova.

"She actually plays pretty similar to Chakvetadze", Sharapova said of her next opponent.

"She hits the ball pretty flat and big and she's had some good success on clay this season. So it will definitely be a very tough match".

Sharapova revels in win despite jeering crowd at French Open

Paris, June 4: Not even thousands of jeering fans could ruin the moment for Maria Sharapova.

After saving two match points and breaking Patty Schnyder in the 16th game of the third set to reach the French Open quarterfinals with a 3-6, 6-4, 9-7 win, the Russian smiled and waved through the whistling at Court Suzanne Lenglen.

The spectators turned on Sharapova at 7-7 in the final set on Sunday, when she won a disputed point while serving at 30-love.

Schnyder watched a serve land in, then complained she had held up a hand to call for time.

The chair umpire ruled the point would count, giving Sharapova her first ace of the tournament. Sharapova said later she didn't see Schnyder's hand until after hitting the ball - and had no regrets about what happened.

"It's pretty hard being a tennis player and Mother Teresa at the same time. You're fighting for every single point out there," Sharapova said.

Schnyder was one point away from ending the match in the 10th game and again in the 14th - and she also was two points away from victory on 11 occasions. But Sharapova stayed positive.

"Don't count on me giving up," the two-time Grand Slam champion said.

Serena Williams and Justine Henin won on Sunday, setting up a quarterfinal showdown, while Roger Federer advanced in the men's draw.

Sharapova, who has been hindered by a right shoulder injury, said she was able to stay in the match against Schnyder because she kept to her style of play. "I wasn't going to beat her by being a clay-court player. I'm simply not a clay-court player," Sharapova said.

"I started moving in and I started hitting the ball and I started attacking."

The 14th-seeded Schnyder even gave credit to Sharapova for the comeback.

"At the end, yeah, she was the big champion. I'm the little one who could not win," said Schnyder, whose best result at a major was the semifinals at the 2004 Australian Open.

Sharapova will next face No. 9 Anna Chakvetadze, who beat No. 25 Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 0-6, 6-2.

Monday's schedule featured the four remaining men's fourth-round matches, including two-time French Open winner Rafael Nadal against two-time major champion Lleyton Hewitt.

Sharapova posts unconvincing win

Maria Sharapova

Second seed Maria Sharapova recovered from a second-set blip to move into the last 16 of the French Open on Saturday.

The 20-year-old was 4-1 down in the second set against fellow Russian Alla Kudryavtseva and dropped serve three times in total but still won 6-1 6-4.

Sharapova appeared to be troubled by the injury which recently kept her out for two months, flexing her right shoulder in between points.

However, she goes through to face 14th seed Patty Schnyder.

"I can't expect a lot from my shoulder this week," Sharapova said. "At times I still feel it during the match.

"I played a solid first set and then had a little bit of a let down and made a lot of unforced errors.

"I am happy the way I came back after that but it was also lousy as not a lot of people are going to allow me to get away with that."

Henin v Bammer
Safina v S Williams
Jankovic v Bartoli
Garbin v Vaidisova
Ivanovic v Medina Garrigues
Peer v Kuznetsova
Safarova v Chakvetadze
Schnyder v Sharapova

Schnyder needed three sets to see off Grand Slam debutante Karin Knapp but eventually triumphed 6-1 4-6 7-5.

Ana Ivanovic was another early winner on Saturday, crushing unseeded Romanian Ioana Raluca Olaru 6-2 6-0.

The seventh seed needed just 65 minutes to end Olaru's Grand Slam debut at the third round stage.

The 19-year-old, who won the German Open in May, believes she is a contender for the title.

"I got a lot of confidence from Berlin, it helped me a lot," said the Serb. "I have improved in the mental side of things in the last couple of months.

"Everything is open in this tournament and I can be one of the players competing for the title."

Third seed Svetlana Kuznetsova will have to beat Shahar Peer for the first time in her career if she is to reach the quarter-finals.

The Russian beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-2 6-3 but will face a much tougher task against Israeli Peer, a 6-1 4-6 6-3 winner over Katarina Srebotnik.

Kuznetsova has lost both her previous encounters with Peer.

"It's a tough draw," she said. "But my game's better suited to clay than hers. I'm looking forward to have a chance for revenge."

Tennis: Injured Sharapova at home in the supermarket but not the kitchen


When you are the highest-earning sportswoman in the world you do not normally need to worry about cooking your lunch, finding your way around the supermarket or making sure the toilet paper does not run out.

Maria Sharapova, however, has been learning how the other half lives.

The 20-year-old Russian, who reached the third round of the French Open here yesterday with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over America's Jill Craybas, has played only 11 matches in the past four months because of injury.

She is still feeling the after-effects of tendinitis in her shoulder, which kept her out of competition for nearly two months until her return in Istanbul last week.

Being away so long has left Sharapova feeling like "a cow on ice" on court, particularly on clay, but the enforced time at home had its benefits.

"I don't think you realise what your career has given you until you actually get to spend the time there and see it for yourself," she said.

"I was able to live a normal life alone by myself for a few weeks, going to the grocery store and cooking my own breakfast and lunch.

"Usually I'm only there for a week at a time and my mum does all that stuff. She'll be the one going to the shop to buy toilet paper. I ran out and had to go to a friend's house next door to get some, which was a new experience for me."

How had the shopping gone?

"The first time I was lost, absolutely lost. Now I've got it under control. I know where the vegetables are, where my favourite cheese is." And the cooking? "Awful. I always call my friends over to help me."

Given Sharapova's lack of match play and the fact that she has never gone beyond the quarter-finals here, it would be a surprise if she left Paris with a significant addition to her estimated annual earnings of £15 million ($40 million), which exceed even Roger Federer's.

Nevertheless, her game went up a gear following a scratchy first-round performance against Emilie Loit and her compatriot, Alla Kudryavtseva, should not prove too great a barrier to the last 16.

Sharapova back shopping for success

Sharapova salutes the Paris crowd after her 6-2, 6-1 victory over America's Jill Craybas

When you are the highest-earning sportswoman in the world you do not normally need to worry about cooking your own lunch, finding your way around the local shops or making sure the toilet paper does not run out. Maria Sharapova, however, has been learning how the other half lives.

The 20-year-old Russian, who reached the third round of the French Open here yesterday with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over America's Jill Craybas, has played only 11 matches in the last four months after the worst injury of her career. She is still feeling the after-effects of tendinitis in her shoulder, which required a cortisone injection and kept her out of competition for nearly two months until her return in Istanbul last week.

Being away so long has left Sharapova feeling like "a cow on ice" on court, particularly on clay, but the enforced time at home had its benefits. "I don't think you realise what your career has given you until you actually get to spend the time there and see it for yourself," Sharapova said. "I was able to live a normal life alone by myself for a few weeks, going to the grocery store and cooking my own breakfast and lunch. It was just so unusual for me.

"Usually I'm only there for a week at a time and my mum does all that stuff. She'll be the one going to the shop to buy toilet paper. I ran out and had to go to a friend's house next door to get some, which was a new experience for me. I'm 20 and in a way I'm so mature because of what my career has brought me, but in other ways I've missed out on the normal things of life. And it was wonderful, I love it."

How had the shopping gone? "The first time I was lost, absolutely lost. Now I've got it under control. I know where the vegetables are, where my favourite cheese is." And the cooking? "Awful. I always call my friends over to help me. I'm not very patient. I can't wait for things to boil and to fry."

Given Sharapova's lack of match play and the fact that she has never gone beyond the quarter-finals here, it would be a surprise if she left Paris with a significant addition to her estimated annual earnings of £15m, which exceed even Roger Federer's. Nevertheless, her game went up a gear following a scratchy first-round performance against Emilie Loit and her compatriot, Alla Kudryavtseva, should not prove too great a barrier to the last 16.

Sharapova is probably happy to be in the opposite side of the draw to Serena Williams, who steamrollered her in the Australian Open final in January. Williams, however, did not impress in beating Venezuela's Milagros Sequera, 6-0, 7-6. "Even when I was up 6-0 I didn't feel I was playing my best," she admitted. "I was struggling to get the rhythm."

Only two of the top 10 men's seeds, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, were on court. Nadal dropped just seven games in beating Flavio Cipolla, a 23-year-old Italian who looked barely half that age. Playing in his first Grand Slam tournament, the world No 227 was hitting first serves which barely topped 90mph, nearly 40mph slower than Venus Williams' best effort the previous day.

Laurent Recouderc is ranked even lower than Cipolla at No 306, but the Frenchman took a set off Djokovic, who won 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. The world No 6 admitted that he had not been happy with either of his performances here this week.

On a day when Djokovic's next opponent, Olivier Patience, lived up to his name by beating Mariano Zabaleta over five sets, Lleyton Hewitt also showed his dogged side in overcoming Argentina's Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 champion, 4-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. The Australian came back to win from two sets down for only the fourth time in his career.