Star pledges to put on a show to lift spirits
Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova says she was ``devastated'' and ``shocked'' by the deadly tsunamis that hit Asia, including Thailand, on Sunday but expects a ``great show'' in her exhibition match against former world number one Venus Williams of the United States.
``I was devastated by the disaster. I was shocked. Everybody was shocked. It's shocking,'' said the teenage prodigy who will play world number nine Williams in Chiang Mai on Sunday.
``I'm happy that the match will go on as scheduled. I'm honoured to be here.
``It's going to be a great show. I hope everything is back to normal soon.
``People should learn a lesson from the tsunami catastrophe that life can be unpredictable and that we should all look forward to the bright side.''
Sharapova, who also won the lucrative season-ending championship, donated US$10,000 to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to help the victims of the disaster.
Thousands have been killed and injured in Thailand alone.
In the wake of the disaster, all parties which Sharapova was scheduled to attend have been cancelled including a New Year countdown in Chiang Mai.
However, the 17-year-old Russian will today go to Hua Hin today to help promote tourism there.
Sharapova, ranked fourth in the world, said she had been training hard for the match against Williams and would play it like a competitive match.
She described her 2004 season as ``amazing'' and hoped to achieve more great things although she did not have any particular goal for next year.
``I'd love to win again at Wimbledon. I'd love to be the number one in the world but I don't put pressure on myself,'' said Sharapova.
Despite having a great year, she was not in the Russian squad, led by French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, that won the Fed Cup for the first time.
She claimed she was unfit although it was reported that certain Russian players, particluarly Myskina, did not want her in the team.
``I hope to play in the Fed Cup next year,'' she said.
Earlier yesterday, Sharapova, who arrived late on Wednesday night, attended the foundation stone laying ceremony for the national tennis development centre at Muang Thong Thani.
Deputy Prime Minister Suwat Liptapanlop, who is also president of the Lawn Tennis Association of Thailand, said it was unfortunate that the Russian star player came to Thailand at a criticial time but she was pleased by the security, hospitality, accommodation and warmth of the Thai people.
Sharapova will play Williams in a two-set match at the 700th Anniversary in Chiang Mai on Sunday at 3pm, which will be shown live on Channel 7.
It will be followed by a one-set doubles match featuring Sharapova and TamarineTanasugarn against Williams and Suchanan Viratprasert.
Williams was scheduled to arrive in Bangkok late last night.