Relieved Sharapova ends `amazing' year -
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Relieved Sharapova ends `amazing' year

Relieved Sharapova ends `amazing' yearBy BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
November 16, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- So what's a girl who loves to shop do with $1 million?

``That's a lot of shoes,'' says Maria Sharapova, winner of Wimbledon and the year-end WTA Championships.

The 17-year-old Russian is headed off to a ``super-fantastic'' vacation knowing she beat the world's top players over five consecutive days to earn one of the richest paychecks in women's tennis.

http://[img][/img]``I certainly deserve a spot on that list,'' she said.

Sharapova rose to a career-high fourth in the year-end WTA rankings released Tuesday after starting the year at No. 32. She finished with a 55-15 match record and her fifth title after defeating an injured Serena Williams 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 Monday night.

``I've had an amazing year and accomplished so much,'' she said. ``To achieve so much, I don't think a lot of people realize that I'm still 17.''

Lindsay Davenport claimed the year-end No. 1 ranking for the third time in her career, although she failed to advance to the semifinals after winning a Tour-best seven titles.

``To be able to do it at 28 is quite an accomplishment,'' she said.

Sharapova's run through the season-ending tournament proved a breakthrough, with three victories over players she had losing records against. She beat countrywomen Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva in straight sets, and outlasted fellow Russian Anastasia Myskina in three sets in the semifinals after losing to her three other times this year.

``It just shows that I came a long way in a short period of time,'' she said. ``It's just really unbelievable. I played five days in a row and with my body at 17, it's not very easy to do that.''

Sharapova's only loss in five matches came against former No. 1-ranked Amelie Mauresmo. The two had never played before and Mauresmo won 7-6, 5-4.

``When I was playing Amelie I was absolutely dead, I felt that I couldn't go on,'' she said, ``but I found an inner strength in myself.''

The long year clearly took a toll on Sharapova, who didn't smile much as the tournament wore on and had a muted reaction when she beat Williams.

``It was a relief,'' she said. ``I froze.''

Sharapova's life turned into a whirlwind of promotional appearances, photo shoots and constant scrutiny after her stunning 6-1, 6-4 victory over Williams at Wimbledon. Expectations piled up on her thin shoulders, too.

She played 10 more tournaments the rest of the year, winning titles in South Korea and Japan before beating Williams again.

``There were definitely a lot of difficult periods. That's how I learned to be at the top. That's how I learned a lot about myself,'' she said. ``After winning Wimbledon at 17, it's a bit of a struggle. I'm just one girl in front of millions of people and a lot of people are watching me, looking at me every second to see what I'm doing, wanting me to win and this and that.''

Sharapova's recognition among non-tennis fans has gone up, especially when she hands over her credit card in stores.

``Unfortunately, I have to give them my credit card lots of times because I am a big shopper,'' she said.

At times, Sharapova finds the attention to be intrusive, especially if she's approached while eating in public.

``Then yeah, it is a little bit like, `You are bothering me.' It is very difficult when some fans are a little crazy,'' she said. ``But other times, I don't mind if people come up to me and ask for my autograph.''

The blond beauty's looks have generated as much interest as her game, helping give women's tennis a marketing boost during a year in which Serena and Venus Williams didn't win a Grand Slam tournament.

Organizers of the WTA Championships focused their advertising on Sharapova, featuring her in a short skirt and without her racket in tournament posters and billboards with the tag line, ``The closer you sit the hotter she gets.''

Williams, who loves fashion as much as Sharapova does, saw nothing wrong with a 17-year-old being portrayed in an alluring way.

``I love her legs in this picture. Her legs are so sexy,'' Williams said. ``She is not being sold in this picture. This is a hot picture.''

WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott defended the ads, saying, ``They were respectful and tasteful. I was surprised for any questions to be raised.''

Sharapova didn't have a problem with the ads, and enjoys getting dolled up for photo shoots.

``I find it to be very glamorous because definitely the work on the court is not very glamorous,'' she said. ``So it feels good to get the makeup on. I am a Renaissance woman. I love to try different things.''

Sharapova showed a gracious side after beating Williams. She said she planned to give the SUV worth $56,300 that she won or proceeds from its sale to the survivors of the September hostage-taking in Russia that left more than 300 people dead, half of them children.

And she later acknowledged slipping up during the post-match awards ceremony. ``I forgot to thank Serena,'' she said. ``I'm sorry I didn't mention her name.'' If Sharapova's success continues in 2005, she knows there will be fewer days to act her age. ``I just have to realize that it's not about winning and it's not about losing,'' she said. ``It's about what you can learn from your mistakes, trying to get better and most importantly working hard.''
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