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Old Aug 26th, 2010, 08:41 PM   #168
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Re: ** Masha News and Articles! ** Vol. 2

Now healthy, Sharapova looks for her second US Open title
By Erin Bruehl
Thursday, August 26, 2010

At the start of the 2009 US Open, Maria Sharapova was still finding her way back into her game after being back on the WTA Tour for just three months following a nine-month layoff from singles because of a torn rotator cuff that required surgery.

She reached one final on the Olympus US Open Series in Toronto leading up to the US Open last year but had not yet won a title and was still seeing how her arm felt as she continued to recover and get back.

In Flushing, she was one of American upstart Melanie Oudin's upset victims, falling to the teenager in the third round.

But now in 2010, Sharapova's top game is back, she is healthy, and she enters the US Open after a great summer that included reaching two finals. She is now looking for her second title in Flushing Meadows and first Grand Slam tournament title since winning the 2008 Australian Open.

"I am really excited about this year's Open because last year I was kind of on the comeback trail, and at this time of the year, I was feeling and seeing where I was, where my game was, where I was physically, how my arm was feeling," Sharapova, 23, said. "And this year, I am feel like I am a real competitor, having a good summer, and I am enjoying myself and not worrying about the injury, which is just great when you are on the court."

Sharapova had an up-and-down start to 2010, as she was upset in the first round of the Australian Open to start the year, losing to Maria Kirilenko in three sets. A few weeks later, however, she won her 21st career tour title in Memphis but then lost her second match in Indian Wells and did not play again until May because of an elbow injury.

At Wimbledon, where she won her first Grand Slam tournament title at age 17 in 2004, she lost in the fourth round to eventual champion and world No. 1 Serena Williams. Williams is unable to compete in the US Open, as she continues to recover from a cut to her foot that required surgery.

Since then, however, Sharapova has played great tennis, reaching the final in back-to-back tournaments in Stanford and Cincinnati. In Cincinnati, she held three match points before losing to 2009 US Open champion Kim Clijsters in three sets.

She also had an emotional start to her summer, visiting the Gomel area of Belarus near where the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred in 1986 that released a lot of radiation into the area. At the time, Sharapova's parents, Yuri and Yelena, lived just 80 miles away from the accident and left the area a few months later, when Yelena was pregnant with Maria. Maria was then born in a city in Siberia.

Sharapova has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 2007 and has The Maria Sharapova Foundation, which helps children around the world, including The Maria Sharapova Foundation Scholarship for students from Chernobyl-affected areas that she launched with the UNDP.

On her trip in July, she visited a local hospital with many children stricken with cancer among her stops, and she has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities in the area, including money to build sports and recreation facilities. She anticipates her work in the area only increasing once she retires from tennis.

"I still want to keep working with Chernobyl-affected areas as I started to do years ago, and I think that is going to venture out into something bigger and even better when I am done with my career and have more time," Sharapova said.

And she is now in New York, which is one of her favorite places to visit and play tennis.

She does not have lots of free time to sightsee in New York City but enjoys visiting Central Park among the city's attractions because of its uniqueness in comparison to most of Manhattan. Sharapova, the world's highest-paid female athlete, does enjoy going out to restaurants or shopping when time allows.

"When I was younger, I thought the city was too busy and too hectic for me, but over the years, I have gotten to love its energy, and I love coming back," Sharapova said of New York City.

Her fashion and style inspires as much talk about her as her play on the court, as she designs her own line of shoes and bags for Cole Haan, and her Nike on-court fashions usually generate as much discussion during US Open matches as her tennis, including the night black cocktail-style dress she wore when she defeated Justine Henin to win the 2006 US Open under the lights and the diamond-studded red dress that followed.

She debuts different dresses for both day and night matches and this year will be wearing a deep purple dress for the evenings and a brighter green dress for the daytime. They are both an update to a more classic style, and she will also be donning earrings from Tiffany.

"It is quite a classic look this year," Sharapova said of her US Open attire. "It is triggered around the old-school collar that we have modernized a bit. The color is deep purple for night and a little livelier green for day. I am also wearing diamond earrings with a yellow diamond drop."

On the court, Sharapova is known for her power and ferocious hitting style, although she can be prone to double faults, which can be her undoing in matches. Prior to surgery, serving with an injured shoulder was a serious problem, but she says now she is feeling good.

A former world No. 1 with three Grand Slam tournament titles and now ranked No. 16, Sharapova will be one of the favorites to make a run for the US Open title this year, along with Clijsters and two-time defending champion Venus Williams, with Serena and seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin both out.

But she knows not to take anyone for granted and that many other dangerous players lurk in the draw.

"There is still a very deep field ahead of us," she said of the women's draw minus Serena and Henin. "You still have to get through a lot of tough players in order to win the tournament."

Sharapova especially enjoys playing night matches in Arthur Ashe Stadium under the lights with a packed crowd of over 20,000 cheering fans. Her fondest evening match memories of course come from hoisting the US Open trophy in 2006, and each year she loves playing in the US Open.

"I think it is one of the most exciting times of the year. There is nothing like the New York crowd and its energy, the build-up to the matches and the excitement," Sharapova said. "It is the biggest stadium we play in the whole year, and probably one of the most exciting moments was when I played in the final in 2006 and got to win and see all the people standing up. The whole stadium was full and was really vibrant."
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