Wimbledon-Sharapova, the new big noise in tennis
2003-06-24 16:41:21 GMT (Reuters)
By Paul Majendie
LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) - Russian teenager Maria Sharapova, hailed as the new big noise in women's tennis, grunted her way to victory at Wimbledon on Tuesday in a battle of the blonde beauties against American Ashley Harkleroad.
Sharapova, whose grunts have even enticed tabloid newspapers to put decibel counters courtside, swept vociferously into the second round in under an hour with an easy 6-2 6-1 win.
The stands on court two were packed for the glamour match amid endless speculation as to whether there might be not just one, but two young players set to eclipse the absent Anna Kournikova as the next modelling sensation in tennis.
Harkleroad has been dubbed "Kourna-Copy" after the feeding frenzy her looks provoked, but on Tuesday the 18-year-old could not hold a candle on court to Sharapova, who is two years her junior.
In a British pre-Wimbledon warm-up tournament in Edgbaston a week ago, Sharapova's French opponent Nathalie Dechy complained to the umpire about the Russian's grunting and the threat of disciplinary action brought the noise level down.
At Wimbledon, Harkleroad let rip with some hefty grunts of her own but nothing could match the volume from Sharapova, who at one stage had the crowd gasping at the decibel level despite the Russian's obvious efforts to muffle her moans.
But world number one Serena Williams sprung to the teenager's defence when asked to pitch into the biggest Wimbledon grunting debate since Monica Seles let rip.
"I was playing on centre court last year and I heard her," the defending champion said of the teenager.
"But you know, I found it funny if anything. It doesn't bother me and I hope she doesn't let it bother her.
"It's only distracting if you make it distracting and if you listen to it, it will be distracting," Williams said.
Sharapova, the classic rags-to-riches story of a girl from a poor Siberian family, was first spotted by nine-times Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova.
She came to Florida at the age of eight to attend the world renowned Nick Bollettieri tennis academy.
Now her mentor, who first nurtured Andre Agassi to greatness, is fiercely proud of her: "She is an agent's dream and her drive and ambition can make her a big noise beyond her trademark grunting."
Maria is the new grunt queen! Sorry Serena....