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Team WTAworld, Senior Member
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Role Reversal for Sharapova
March 14, 2004

INDIAN WELLS, CA - It was only two years ago that Maria Sharapova made her WTA Tour debut at the Pacific Life Open as a fresh-faced 14-year-old who quickly started receiving praise as the future of women's tennis.

Sharapova hasn't disappointed those who were heralding the teenager as an up-and-coming star. With two titles already under her belt, the now 16-year-old is close to cracking the Top 20 for the first time and seems poised to continue her climb up the WTA Rankings.

"I definitely think my game has improved," said Sharapova, discussing the differences between her play now and two years ago. "I definitely got a lot more experience. That's what I'm very thankful for. That's the only thing that I think I'm looking for while I'm 16 years old.

"I feel I'm mentally strong, because I am, what, 24 in the world right now. I'm very happy because I've been able to show that I can play at such a level."

Though she only won a single match at that first Indian Wells appearance, in Sharapova's mind, her debut on the Tour was very much a success. After surviving a three-set first round match with Brie Rippner, Sharapova got a grand welcome to the WTA Tour from former World No.1 Monica Seles - a 60 62 thrashing that ended her first Tour event.

"I lost like 0-2, but I felt really good," Sharapova said. "The first thing (I said) when I came out is, 'I played so unbelievable, but the score is 0-2. I think I played my best match ever, and it's 0-2.' You're thinking, 'What should I do next?' But I was very happy to get the opportunity to play her."

Very little time has past since that first trip on Indian Wells, but Sharapova's role will be reversed in her third round match when she takes on 14-year-old Sesil Karatancheva of Bulgaria. Sharapova will now play the experienced Tour player serving as the welcoming committee to a player making their Tour debut.

Karatancheva, at 14 years, 7 months old, made her WTA Tour debut this week and has already been gaining some attention. After scoring a three-set win against Alexandra Stevenson in the first round, the young Bulgarian grabbed a huge win in her second match, defeating No.17 in the world, Magüi Serna.

After two big wins this week at Indian Wells, Karatancheva is confident she can keep the trend going against Sharapova.

"I believe in my game," Karatancheva said. "I believe that my game is something I worked on a lot. I think that if I play it and if I concentrate 100 percent on something, I can do something unbelievable tomorrow."

If Karatancheva turns out to be the Tour's next Sharapova, the latter isn't prepared to offer any special treatment in tomorrow's match.

"When I go on the court, doesn't matter who it is, it's just numbers," Sharapova said. "A not ranked player or ranked player or No. 1 in the world, I just want to win. That's what I want to do with every player."

© 2004 WTA Tour

Maria Sharapova plays Sesil Karatancheva first on Stadium 2 today, starting at 10:30 local time (18:30 GMT). Go Maria!

Dr. Andrew Broad

17,358 Posts
From watching part of the match on television, I think Sesil is about 5'7" tall. She has a tremendous physique with strong legs. Her speed and power will make Sesil an elite player someday. But Maria was able to turn things around after a tough first set to beat Karatancheva in 3 sets. That was a pressure filled match for Maria and she came through it fine. :)
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