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Old Jun 20th, 2005, 02:16 AM   #153
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I put this up in GM

Giggles conceal steel of the ice maiden
By Sue Mott
(Filed: 20/06/2005)

Daily Telegraph

Wimbledon seedings in full
2005 singles draw

The girl who captured the Wimbledon title with her game and captivated the Centre Court crowd with her giggles returns to the scene of her conquest. With her she brings an enormous wardrobe, her chemistry homework and her steely determination not to let the crown slip into rival hands without a ferocious fight. Maria Sharapova is blonde, poised, groomed and 18, but those Siberian roots have given her icy resolve.

Model professional: Maria Sharapova has the right mentality
"I know that every single tournament I go to, no matter who I play, no matter how friends I am with that person, I know I just want to rip them apart every time I step on court." She laughed the famous laugh, a high-pitched gunfire of jollity that doesn't sound so jolly for her opponents somehow.

In the intervening year, she's gone global. She arrived at Wimbledon last year, little known, little expected, 13th (lucky for some) seed. By the time she had beaten Serena Williams in the final, she was a superstar-in-waiting. To be honest, she didn't have to wait long.

"I expected it would come but I didn't expect it so soon," she said, cool as ever, jewellery-bedecked and a decade older in demeanour than her linear years would suggest. "I felt like everyone all of a sudden knew who I was. I was on the cover of every single magazine. I was in all the newspapers." She paused for a bout of giggling.

"Of course, I love being good at what I do. Being recognised for it. People talking to me. Asking for autographs. When you get stopped in the street, it makes you realise you have done something. It gives you a flashback to what you have achieved. I don't mind. I really appreciate my fans."

For a while after the sheer, traumatic shock of the result, the penny, or the rouble or the cent (depending where she was sitting) refused to drop that she had accomplished so precocious a dream. "Oh God, it took a really long time. I was thinking, 'What did happen?' and, 'Am I really champion?' I was on the move all the time. It just didn't sink in. Then one day, sitting on a couch chatting with a friend, she's like, 'Oh my God - a month ago - you won Wimbledon!' and I'm like, 'I know! I know! Hee, hee, hee." A giggle storm ensued.

"It does feel like I'm at the top of women's tennis because I'm Wimbledon champion. Through my junior years people were always expecting the best from me. I had too many compliments. Of course, I appreciated them but I was 30 to 35 in the world. It's a big difference between being 35 in the world and being No 1 or 2. So once I won Wimbledon, I felt I had accomplished something big, something that proves it. All those compliments - they deserve to be here now."

No false modesty with Maria. Her expectations are higher than Ivo Karlovic and she maintains her self-belief at a similar altitude. It may help that she has the looks, the shape, the highlights, the carriage and the dangerous frost when displeased to intrigue the marketing world. Either that, or they just threw endorsement worth $20 million (£11 million) in her direction as the ultimate act of altruism.

She acknowledges the benefit of beauty. "It helps I guess. But it really doesn't make life any easier. You still have to have a career. You have to have a personality for people to work with and to try to get to be No 1 in tennis. You still have to work. You can take a lot of beautiful people from the street but obviously they are having a normal job and living a normal social life. There's a big difference between that and winning Wimbledon." Sharapova isn't complaining.

"It's easier to meet hot guys, put it this way. It's a lot easier." She convulsed in familiar hilarity. But before various males at Wimbledon decide to get themselves heated, she is highly selective. "It's not just guys, it's everyone. After Wimbledon I was getting so many letters and so many phone calls from people I haven't heard from in five years. People who worked once on my serve called me or were giving interviews saying that's why I won Wimbledon. I find that when I meet new people, I can tell from my first response whether that's someone you would enjoy to be with. It's instinct. You have to have that. Because a lot of things happen behind your back.

"I've seen attitudes towards me change in the locker room but hopefully in a good way. It's hard to say. I'm only 18, a lot on the girls' tour are a lot older. If I was in their position, I would be delighted to see a new generation of players coming through. You haven't seen so many players who are young in the top 10 for a really long time. I hope they appreciate that. But it's hard to know what they are thinking on the inside. They might have a smile on their face, but underneath it might be different. Of course, we are all competitive. You're not going to say, 'All the best to your opponent'."

The competition is all the hotter for the yoyo effect of fortunes this year. Lindsay Davenport, the veteran American who nearly retired a year ago, is up there as women's No 1.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, who has beaten Sharapova twice this year, prevailed at the French Open after a long run of illness and injury. Her fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters defeated Sharapova in Miami, Patty Schnyder beat her in Rome and Serena Williams gained vengeance for Wimbledon by winning their gladiatorial three-set semi-final in Australia. On the plus side, the reigning Wimbledon champion won Doha, Tokyo and, significantly, Birmingham on grass.

All Sharapova knows is that she possesses the right tigerish mentality. She is world No 2 for good reason. "I grew up with a lot of competition at Nick Bollettieri's in Florida. I constantly played matches against older kids. In fact, I'm always with older people in tennis and also businesswise. I not only have to be a player, I also have to be a businesswoman at 18.

"I know I don't seem like a kid, but when I'm back in my hotel room, underneath the tennis player and businesswoman, there's still a lot of me that's 18-years-old. Ish." Giggle. "Behind closed doors, I'm still like a little kid. I'm still growing into myself. Yet when you become 18, you have to put your responsibilities together. You are officially an adult and you have to stand up for yourself. You have your parents, but now there's going to be another grown-up life."

Is this bad news for Youri, her father, her co-coach, her companion, from Nyagan, Siberia, who has been so instrumental in her formation so far while her mother, Yelena, remains indistinct in the background? Is she about, in time-honoured, tennis-tot tradition, to rebel? She turns not a golden hair. "I've always been a really independent person. I've always been really, really picky about the people around me. I've changed so many coaches and travelled with so many different people, I have to enjoy the team around me.

"But when I have my dad around me, he knows when to give me space. Just to have a parent with you, it gives you a whole different feeling. Parents know you best, other people come and go. It's a bit of a cycle. At this point I'm pretty satisfied with the people around me but I have never had any hesitation about losing people. Why wait? Why waste time? Go with your instinct."

It is interesting to discover which traits she inherited from her parents. "My mum's a very elegant lady. She always taught me to be very proper and beautiful on the inside instead of out. To care for others. "From my dad, that's where I've gotten my competitive side. Hee-hee. I always know when he's not happy. He plays tennis, of course, but he's a extreme skier. He's crazy about it. He jumps out of helicopters on to the mountains. No, I would never do that. Hee-hee-hee. I like an island in the sunshine. Typical girl.

"Neither of my parents have given me any pressure. They always tried to find the best tennis facility for me, no matter how much it cost, whatever it was, but I never thought I had to give anything in return. I was given the opportunity to play tennis and they gave everything they could to make me great. But they were not stupid. They knew that not everyone can be a champion. If it didn't work out, they would have gone into a different business. I have never felt any, any pressure to win."

But ask her if she has ever shouted: 'Oh, just shut up, dad,' and she laughs and says: "Of course. I have my dad-and-daughter moments, don't worry. There are times when we get into a fight and not talk for, like, 10 minutes, but we just laugh it off because we know each other so well. For some reason, we just slot together. And there's no trouble with boyfriends either. My dad's really cool with guys. I think he understands I'm already an adult. He's very OK with it."

It might be hard for a teenage girl to see so relatively little of her mother, but she was inured to separation from the age of nine when she emigrated to America with a racket in her hand. She has now been nine years each in east and west. She is a 50-50 citizen of the world. "But, you know, I have always really felt Russian. I have a lot of memories of Russia. It made me who I am. Even when I'm with friends in Florida or LA, I say, 'Oh, that's so American' as though I'm not part of it. I feel you have a piece of home in your heart forever and that is where home is for me." Siberia and the Centre Court.

"Of course, I want to retain my Wimbledon title. I will have shivers going through my whole body when I arrive at the site again." This contrasts with her evident fears of a Wimbledon stalker, but no doubt her up-to-five bodyguards will take care of that, and anyway she is more concerned about what she will be wearing.

There is the teenage girl peeping out through the businesswoman's eyes. One minute she talks of sporting destiny and the next the trim on her dress. "I'm a fashion girl. For my birthday, I asked my friend to get me a mannequin, sized medium, and I want to get a sewing machine but my mum won't let me yet because I've just bought a house. I've got a big variety of clothes. A huge variety. A lot still have the tags on because I haven't had the chance to wear them yet."

Unbelievably, she is still at high school. She has just finished algebra and is gearing up for chemistry and, hopefully, languages. But which one? Spanish, she wondered. It is a difficult choice but one that may be entirely unnecessary. In the world she now inhabits, they just speak in superlatives.

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