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Old Nov 16th, 2004, 05:04 PM   #53
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Sharapova Unlike Anyone Her Age

LOS ANGELES - After winning the WTA Tour Championships presented by Porsche on Monday evening in Los Angeles, Maria Sharapova was asked by a reporter if it's possible for her to be a normal 17-year-old - considering her hectic lifestyle and schedule as one of the best players in women's tennis.
Sharapova concluded that she was no different from any other teen, regardless of her worldwide status as the future of the game.

But Sharapova is definitely unlike any other 17-year-old currently walking the face of this planet. She's a 17-year-old who just pocketed a check for $1 million dollars and donated a Porsche Cayenne to victims of the Beslan school hostage tragedy in Russia. That, in addition to spending a week in Los Angeles walking through a field of some of the game's finest players and reaffirming her status as tennis' phenom on the rise.

Sharapova's remarkable come-from-behind 46 62 64 victory against Serena Williams at the STAPLE Center capped off what has been a very impressive year for the Russian player, which included four titles in addition to her Grand Slam run at Wimbledon, 55 match wins and a giant victory at her first season-ending event.

"I don't think I could have asked for anything better this year," Sharapova said. "It has been an extraordinary year for me. And to finish it off just beating players that are the best in the world, I am really sort of speechless because I have had an amazing year. I have accomplished so much.

"I have been through ups and downs in my life. And to achieve so much at 17 years old, I don't think a lot of people still realize that I am still 17."

Sharapova did much more while in California than just win one of the sport's most prestigious events. She learned she can play with Amelie Mauresmo. She learned how to defeat Anastasia Myskina and Svetlana Kuznetsova for the first time. And she demonstrated once again that she can go toe-to-toe with Williams, something a majority of players are still trying to figure out.

Despite her continued rise to fame and climb in the rankings - she will finish the year at a career-best No.4 - Sharapova is quick to point out that she is just a teenager and still struggling to balance growing up with the overwhelming expectations with being a tennis star.

"It is a bit of a struggle," Sharapova said. "There are a lot of things that emotion-wise, expectation-wise that, even though I love expectation, I mean, I am still 17 years old. And I had to face a lot of it. I am just one girl in front of millions of people.

"And a lot of people are watching me, looking at me every second to what I am doing and wanting me to win and this and that. And I just had to realize it is not about winning and it is not about losing. But it is about doing what you can, learning from your mistakes, trying to get better and most importantly, working hard."

Seventeen years old, but well-beyond her years.
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