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Old Aug 10th, 2005, 06:59 AM   #162
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Sharapova aims for No. 1
Russian tennis star has a chance to claim the world's top ranking with a trip to the semifinals at the JPMorgan Chase Open.
By Tony Ciniglio

Teen queen Maria Sharapova is about to don another crown.

At age 18, the Russian superstar has already won a Wimbledon title, the season-ending WTA Championships and posted a top-five finish in the rankings. She has looks that kill and an even deadlier ground game. Her marketability is rising faster than her game, and that's quite a statement.

Sharapova, however, can reach an elite milestone at this week's JPMorgan Chase Open at Home Depot Center. If she advances to the semifinals, the top-seeded Russian will overtake Lindsay Davenport for the No. 1 ranking in the world. If that happens, Sharapova would be the fifth youngest player to be ranked No. 1 and the first Russian. She would be the 15th No. 1 player in WTA history since 1975.

Take that, Anna Kournikova.

Sharapova, however, does not want to be a one-hit wonder.

"I've always dreamed about being the best and being a champion, but I want to make sure that once I'm No. 1, I stay at No. 1," Sharapova said. "I don't want to get there, only to give it up. Plus, I'm only 18, so I've still got my whole career ahead of me."

Sharapova begins her quest for No. 1 tonight after a first-round bye when she takes on countrywoman and close friend Maria Kirilenko, a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 comeback winner on Monday over former Stanford star Marissa Irvin.

Sharapova is trying to do what Kim Clijsters did at the 2003 JP Morgan Chase Open, where she became the world's No. 1 player after winning the Carson tournament.

From her own experience, Clijsters said she expects Sharapova can handle the rigors of being the No. 1 player.

"It was a dream come true, but for me, things didn't change that much," said Clijsters, the fifth seed at this year's tournament. "That's where your management comes in.

"For Maria, she's already got some great sponsorships, and all of that shows what a great tennis player she is. She's not like Anna (Kournikova), who was focused only on the endorsements. Maria has both the endorsements and the tennis."

It seems Sharapova has more cameras on her than a reality-television star, as evidenced by her appearance at the WTA's All-Access Hour on Monday.

Whether Sharapova ascends to the No. 1 spot this week or later this season, she said she knows the demands will increase, both on and off the court.

"It's not very fun when in training, you go for five hours, you come home and you're exhausted. Then it's like ... it's only Monday. There are six more days this week," said Sharapova, who pulled out of last week's Acura Classic in Carlsbad due to a lower back strain.

Mary Pierce, who's still competing at age 30 and won the Acura Classic title last week, said the current crop of top young players will have a shorter tennis lifespan.

"Women's tennis is tougher than it ever was before. The girls are training harder and are faster and stronger," Pierce said. "This generation of players, I don't see them playing more than 10 years. It's so demanding."

Despite the rigors, Sharapova said she wants to maintain a long career.

"Even though there are some tough days, I still love it," Sharapova said. "I want to play until I feel I've had enough, and that won't be for a while, maybe until I'm 30.

"But at the same time, I don't want to be 35 and not have a family. There's more to life, and there's so much I want to explore and experience."

Sharapova definitely has a style of her own.

She is an aspiring fashion designer and said she wants to attend fashion design school. She is only three classes away from earning her high school degree through an online course, trudging through chemistry and economics after having just recently completed algebra.

"I love fashion and I love designing, but I'm a terrible drawer," Sharapova said. "When I have great ideas, I have to try to incorporate them with friends."

Sharapova's popularity with fans was evident on Monday, which was Maria Sharapova Bobblehead Night at Home Depot Center.

The collectibles didn't look much like Sharapova, though, but she didn't seem to mind.

"You just have to laugh at that. It's not something to take seriously," Sharapova said.
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