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Team WTAworld, Senior Member
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Maria won her eighth singles title in the category "WTA Tour + Grand Slams", and her first at Tier I level (only her titles at Wimbledon and the WTA Tour Championships are of higher status).

The Pan Pacific Open was played on indoor carpet - a fast court well suited to Maria's huge serve and attacking power-game.


In the second round on Wednesday (after a bye), Maria overcame a sluggish start to beat her namesake Maria Vento-Kabchi 7-6 (7/3) 6-0 in 1 hour 22 minutes.

She lost her serve twice in the first set, but won the tiebreak with a "crunching forehand down the line" [CEEFAX].

She powered through the second set in just 20 minutes, finishing the match with her ninth ace.

Maria: "It took me a while to find my rhythm and groove. It takes a while to get used to the surface here, and I just picked up my level in the second set."


In Friday's quarter-finals, Maria beat Elena Likhovtseva 6-3 6-3. Likhovtseva is a flairsome and sexy player, but this was sweet revenge for the 7-6 6-1 defeat Maria suffered at Toronto 2003.

According to CEEFAX, she repeatedly punished the 6th seed's weak serve on the indoor carpet, and closed out the match with a "ferocious backhand pass."

But at 5-2 in the first set and 4-2 in the second, Maria made errors and was broken to love, though like all great champions she broke back immediately on both occasions. These were the only two break-points Likhovtseva had in the match, while Maria broke 5 times from 10 break-points.

Maria: "I felt I could break any time. I know people are hungry to beat me after winning Wimbledon, but I love beating them too.

"I started off well, I was putting pressure on her serves and I think she could tell that I was trying to put a little bit more on a second serve. She was trying to do something on her first serve, but had a low percentage, so I was taking control on her serve. I served well, so it's good to hold and I felt I could break.

"I expected that after winning Wimbledon, I expected everyone to know that I was a top player and that a lot of people wanted to beat me, because they knew I was in the top. You just have to be mentally ready for that, just try to play your game as you always play. I know they are hungry, but I love these kind of challenges that people really, really want to beat you, and I love beating them."


In the semi-finals, Maria exacted revenge for her Birmingham 2003 defeat by Shinobu Asagoe by beating her 6-1 7-6 (7/3) in front of her home crowd. Well Maria had already avenged that defeat at Miami 2004, but Asagoe was the girl who made Daniela Hantuchová cry at Wimbledon 2003, so I just want her to keep paying and paying! ;)

In the first set, Maria broke for 2-0 and again for 5-1 as Asagoe lost both service-games with double faults.

In the second set, Asagoe broke for 3-1, but Maria broke back immediately when Asagoe for the third time double-faulted on break-point. Maria was in control for the rest of the match, despite several mishits, and won it when Asagoe hit a return long.

This set up a final with top seed Lindsay Davenport, who beat US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the other semi.

Maria: "We had a really good match today. Both fought to the end. She [Asagoe] is a great fighter, points were so good. I think she has a great future ahead of her."

It's very droll when a 17-year-old says that a 28-year-old has a great future ahead of her! ;)

"I'm just so happy to be in the final, it brings back really good memories. Tokyo is where I won my first WTA Tour titles, so now I always like to play here. I'll just play my best and give it all I have to win."

Maria was referring to the Tier III Japan Open at Tokyo in October 2003, where she won her first WTA singles title, and also the doubles title. Whereas this is the Toray Pan Pacific Open, a Tier I.

"Lindsay's the number one player in the world, so it will be a tough match. You can't expect an easy match in the final."

Davenport: "She [Sharapova] likes the surface as well, she likes fast surfaces, that's proven by her win in Wimbledon, so it won't be easy. The most important thing is to try to serve well. On this surface, if you can serve well and hold your serve, it puts a lot of pressure on your opponent.

"We both hit hard, it's gonna be really who can gain the control of the points first. Hopefully, it's my day, but it's gonna be a tough match."


Maria showed Davenport the meaning of "true world number one" with a 6-1 3-6 7-6 (7/5) victory in the championship match, which started at 13:11 Japanese time (04:11 GMT).

('*' = hold of serve, '@' = break of serve)

Sharapova *.*@*@* 6
Davenport .*..... 1

Maria won the first set 6-1 at 13:33. Then Davenport took a medical time-out for a left hamstring strain (her left leg was heavily bandaged).

Sharapova ...*.*.*. 3
Davenport *@*.*.*.* 6

Davenport won the second set 6-3 at 14:10.

Sharapova *.*.*.*.*.*. 6
Davenport .*.*.*.*.*.* 6

Details from (page includes summaries of earlier games):
FINAL SET TIE-BREAK: Sharapova to serve, forehand winner.
1/0: Davenport to serve, Sharapova hits a forehand winner crosscourt into space.
2/0: Davenport to serve, unreturned.
2/1: Sharapova to serve, backhand down the line long.
2/2: Sharapova to serve, backhand winner.
3/2: Davenport to serve, Sharapova split-steps into a backhand, returning crosscourt for a winner.
4/2: Davenport to serve, Sharapova forehand into the net.
4/3: Sharapova to serve, unreturned.
5/3: Sharapova to serve, Davenport forehand return long.
6/3: TRIPLE CHAMPIONSHIP POINT for SHARAPOVA... Davenport to serve, unreturned.
6/4: Davenport to serve, unreturned.
6/5: Sharapova to serve, she takes her time... first serve hits the netcord and spins out... second delivery and a short rally ended with a Sharapova forehand winner [down the line] into space!
Maria won 6-1 3-6 7-6 (7/5) at 14:59.


Maria: "It's my first Tier I title so I'm really happy. It was down to the wire and I beat the No.1 player and was able to finish it off. I'm thrilled. It means a lot to me. It's my third title in Japan, so I have good memories here. The fans were amazing and helped raise my game.

"Lindsay played an amazing match and it all came down to the tiebreaker, so it obviously was a very tough match.

"I believed in myself. Lindsay was serving so well. I just tried to hold my serve until what happened in the tie-breaker. It was very, very close. A good serve is very important, especially on this surface. It puts pressure on the other girl to hold."

Davenport: "Maria is a great player. I'm sure you'll be seeing a lot more of her in the final in the years to come."

"I tried to keep the points short because I couldn't really move that well. I strained my left hamstring in my warm-up this morning. Surprisingly, the difference in the match was just a few points. I had to go for more shots and take some chances so I made some errors in the tie-break, but she came up with some great shots at the end.

"When I took the injury timeout, I looked at my coach Adam Peterson and he told me to stop. But I didn't want to disappoint the fans. Then I started to go for my shots, but I didn't expect it to stay that close. I served well so that allowed me to stay in the match. Playing injured, you have to think of the future, but you have to think about the fans and the tournament also. I managed to stick it out till the end, so I have something to be proud of in a loss."


Maria's victory lifts her over Amélie Mauresmo to the #3 ranking, behind Davenport and Serena Williams.

"I don't want to set a timetable for myself to be number one. My job's just to go out there and perform."

A very sensible attitude. Many young players make the mistake of playing week in week out, especially if they are motivated by ranking. But ranking is just a number; it cannot beat the thrill of holding up a trophy after winning a tournament. I say focus on winning tournaments and let the ranking take care of itself.

And for Maria, even the regular WTA tournaments pale in comparison to the Grand Slams. For my other girls it's important to win WTA tournaments for the sake of winning tournaments, but for Maria they're now primarily preparation for the Grand Slams.

1. (and p.51)
3. Search Getty Images for "sharapova"


Next week Maria plays the Open Gaz de France at Paris, where she faces a mouthwatering second-round match with the gorgeous Tatiana Golovin (if Tati can beat a qualifier in the first round).

Unfortunately Maria's new ranking doesn't come into effect for seeding purposes until the following week (the draws are made before the rankings are updated), so she is seeded third behind Amélie Mauresmo and would have to face Serena Williams in the semi-finals rather than the final.

Dr. Andrew Broad
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