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Old Aug 9th, 2005, 02:13 PM   #161
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A nice compliment from Dementieva in here -


Sharapova nears top ranking, eyes long-term domination
Tue Aug 9, 2005 3:43 AM BST

By Matthew Cronin

CARSON, California, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Three victories away from becoming the first Russian woman to attain the number one ranking, Maria Sharapova insists she is more interested in staying at the top than reaching the pinnacle in the first place.

"I know I say this all the time, but I am 18 and it's more important that I'm fully ready to remain number one as long as I can," Sharapova told Reuters on Monday.

"Being there for a week would give me pride, but not as much as staying there for the long term."

Top seeded at this week's JP Morgan Chase Open, Sharapova needs to reach the semi-finals to overhaul American Lindsay Davenport and become the first player from her country to climb to the top of women's tennis.

Last year's Wimbledon champion has a first round bye before a tricky path to the top ranking begins in the second round with a match against her best friend on tour, Maria Kirilenko.

Sharapova could then face 16th seeded compatriot Anna Chakvetadze or possibly the in-form Sania Mirza of India.

Should she advance to the quarter-finals, the ninth seeded Daniela Hantuchova appears likely to be the woman standing between the Russian and the top ranking.

Sharapova realises that the closer she gets to achieving the feat the more questions she will be have to answer about it.

"It's just something else I have to hear," she said. "It's all about locking it out. I've been close before and I'm close now, but I'm not looking at it as a one-week thing."

Whether or not she achieves it this week, the fact a Russian is so close to the milestone is something Sharapova's compatriot Elena Dementieva is all too aware of.

"It's such a big goal for every player that sometimes when you get so close, you can't reach it," the sixth-ranked Dementieva said.

"But I think she can do it and will really deserve it. We all wanted to be the first Russian player to be number one. It means a lot to us and I'm still trying to reach that goal, even if she does it first."

WEAKEST SURFACE

At this event two years ago, Belgium's Kim Clijsters was in a similar position to Sharapova when she had to take the title to become number one for the first time and victory over Davenport in the final was enough to enable her to achieve the goal.

"I didn't think about it until the third set of the final, but I didn't let it influence me," this year's fifth seed said.

"You think about it off court, but I was able to push it aside on court. Maria is very focused on court and I'm sure she won't have any problems with it."

Sharapova was on the verge of taking the number one ranking in May, but came up short at tournaments in Berlin, Rome and the French Open.

However, those events were held on her weakest surface, clay, and the JP Morgan Chase Open is played on hard courts, where she has won titles before.

The task will not be an easy one though, given that Sharapova has been suffering from a lower back injury that forced her to pull out of last week's San Diego Classic.

Knowing that Davenport was out injured (the American also misses this week's event), Sharapova looked destined to claim the top ranking but opted to rest rather than risk damaging her back further.

"My back wasn't that bad, it was just tight and I didn't want to start playing San Diego with a tight back," Sharapova said.

"I was still practicing and doing more strength training. It was more important to have another week of preparation.

"If I wanted number one so bad, I would have played last week, but I wanted to make sure I'm healthy and that I'm ready for the U.S. Open (starting on August 29)."
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