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After four years, Williams family relinquishes Wimbledon titleBy STEPHEN WILSON, AP Sports Writer
July 3, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- For the last four years, a Williams sister held up the winner's trophy on Centre Court at Wimbledon. On Saturday, it was time for the family to watch someone else do the honors.

After losing her title 6-1, 6-4 Saturday to Maria Sharapova, two-time champion Serena Williams sat on her courtside chair with her legs crossed, holding a water bottle and looking on as the 17-year-old Russian star climbed into the guest box to hug her father, Yuri.

``I know that feeling and that moment,'' said Williams, who holds six Grand Slam titles. ``There's no better feeling than that.''

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Her older sister, Venus, won the title in 2000 and 2001, then Serena beat Venus in the next two finals. Serena was hoping to become the first player to win three straight women's titles since Steffi Graf from 1991-93.

Instead, she was outplayed by the third-youngest and lowest- seeded women's champion (No. 16) in Wimbledon history. It was Williams' most one-sided defeat in 210 matches, going back to a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Mary Pierce in March 2000.

Venus lost in the second round last week to another teenager, 19-year-old Croat Karolina Sprem, and flew home. Serena's divorced parents, Richard Williams and mother Oracene Price, were in the guest box for Saturday's final.

Williams was gracious in defeat, walking around the net to embrace Sharapova.

``It's great, she was so excited,'' Williams said. ``I try not to be a bad loser.''

Williams is used to dictating matches, pushing players around the court with her power game, speed and intimidating presence. But Sharapova showed no fear and outhit the top-seeded Williams, displaying stunning maturity and shotmaking. She had 17 winners, three more than Williams.

``It's normal -- people always play their best tennis against me and my sister,'' Williams said. ``She's kind of like me, she doesn't back off. She keeps giving it her all.''

Williams said her own game was way below par.

``I don't know what happened,'' she said. ``I have to look at the film. I didn't play great and I didn't win.''

Williams, who came into the tournament ranked No. 10, will now drop to No. 14, her lowest since March 1999.

It's been a challenging past 12 months for Williams. She had knee surgery last August and missed eight months. Her half-sister Yetunde was shot to death in September in Los Angeles. At the French Open last month, Serena and Venus both lost in the quarterfinals.

Serena said Saturday she was only at ``20 percent.''

``It's a solid achievement for me (to get to the final) because it's been awhile,'' she said. ``I don't know how many people can come back and do so well. But for me it's not good enough.''

Throughout the tournament, Williams spoke of her determination to show that she was back and her desire to match Graf's three-title run. Now, she wonders whether she wanted too much too soon.

``I think I put too much stress on myself going into it,'' she said. ``I figured I really wanted to win more than anything. I really was so, `I got to do this. If I don't do this, there's no ifs, ands or buts about it. I've got to do it now.' Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself.''

Williams' next move: getting back on the practice courts and preparing for the hard-court season. She's a two-time champion at the U.S. Open, which begins in late August.

``I just love playing on that surface, so it's going to be great,'' she said. ``I'm definitely going to triple my efforts, do everything I can to play better next time.''

With Sharapova now established as the sport's new star, Williams is looking forward to the return of Belgians Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters. Top-ranked Henin-Hardenne missed Wimbledon with a wrist injury, while No. 2 Clijsters pulled out because of a viral illness.

``I can't wait to see Kim and Justine back, and Venus and myself (at) 100 percent,'' Williams said. ``It's going to be great.''

Meanwhile, she'll surely continue her off-court pursuits in acting and fashion. She compared her celebrity status to that of Britney Spears. ``I'm not a tennis superstar,'' Williams said. ``I'm a superstar.''
 
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