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Maria's Magnificent Moment: Sharapova Surges To Wimbledon Final

Photo By Ron Angle By Richard Pagliaro
07/02/2004

Cloud cover shrouded the sky above Centre Court casting a bit of bleak streak over a sometime stirring semifinal. The grim, gray sky and thunderous strokes of Lindsay Davenport couldn't stop the star power of 13th-seeded Maria Sharapova from lighting up the proceedings in spectacular style.
The 17-year-old Sharapova roared back from a one-set deficit to defeat Davenport, 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 and become the first Russian woman to reach the Wimbledon final since Olga Morozova in 1974. She is the second-youngest woman to advance to the Wimbledon final in the Open Era. Martina Hingis, who like Sharapova, relocated from her homeland in pursuit of a tennis career, was 16 when she beat Jana Novotna to claim the Wimbledon crown in 1997.

"This is is unbelievable," Sharapova said. "I don't know how I'm in the final. This is crazy. This is my favorite Grand Slam and I never imagined I'd be in the final so early."

When Davenport's final shot sailed long on match point, Sharapova dropped to her knees in delight before bouncing up to her toes. Holding her head in her hands and blowing kisses to the crowd a jubilant Sharapova jumped for joy.

If there were any lingering doubts about Sharapova's arrival as a formidable force in majors, she answered them with an emphatic effort.

Moments after completing the most meaningful victory of her young career, Sharapova finally cracked. Cracking a wide smile of joy, a Sharapova simultaneously neared tears as she wasn't quite sure whether to laugh or cry over her achievement.

"It's a shock. It's amazing. I don't know what to say," a smiling Sharapova said as tears welled in her eyes. "I'm going to cry. I don't know how to react."

It was one of the few instances of indecision the entire day.

The dawning of a future champion may well have marked the departure of a past champion. A disappointed Davenport said the defeat may well serve as her farewell to Wimbledon.

"I doubt I'll be back," Davenport said. "It was a tough loss to take, but I lost to someone who rose to the challenge today. I don't think I gave it away. She totally deserved it. I had control of the match and she took it away."

The fifth-seeded Davenport delivered daring drives down the line to break open the first set. Holding a 3-2 lead, Davenport reeled off five straight games to take a one-set, 2-0 lead. Davenport's decisive play combined with Sharapova's overly-ambitious pursuit of the lines enabled the 1999 champion to take control.

Facing a one-set deficit and down a break in the second, Sharapova benefited from a rain-delay that postponed play, gave her time to reassess her game and return with the resolve to turn the match around.

While Sharapova could not match Davenport's major match experience, her self-confidence ignited her comeback.

"I just kept believing in myself," Sharapova said. "I knew she was a champion and she had all the experience behind her, I just tried to find a way. I got that break in the second and turned it around."

When play after the second-set rain delay, Davenport held for 3-1. Sharapova held at love the broke back quickly to get back on serve. The pair stayed on serve to force a tiebreak.

At 1-2, Davenport failed to finish off a routine overhead, Sharapova made her play another shot and Davenport dumped a listless backhand into the net then stared skyward in disappointment while down a mini-break at 3-1.

The former No. 1 benefited from a Sharapova double fault and backhand error to tie tiebreak, but Sharapova surged forward in the court to take command of the tiebreak. Charging the net, she put away a winner, followed with a forehand winner and used a strong serve to set up a mid court winner to earn triple-set point at 6-3. Davenport saved two set points, but on the third, Sharapova prevailed after a battle of backhands to level the match at one set a apiece.

Reducing the unforced errors that plagued her in the first set, Sharapova sharpened her shot selection and started playing inside the lines in the second and third sets. The six-foot Russian bounded around the court with the exuberance of a school kid ecstatic over the first day of summer vacation. Sharapova began to create open-court opportunities with sharp-angled shots that drove Davenport in pursuit.

Adept anticipation enabled Davenport to track down Sharapova's shots in the first set, but Davenport found herself playing catch-up from the outset of the decisive set. Davenport's missed a forehand to drop serve in the opening game and Sharapova held to consolidate. Davenport held for 1-2, but it was the last time she would get so close.

Boldly stepping inside the baseline to challenge one of the game's hardest hitters, Sharapova singed the sidelines with her searing strokes. Sharapova struck 13 of her 46 winners did not face a break point in the final set that concluded with her joyous jump into the final.
 

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Impeccable form on that forehand :lol:
 

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Good luck Maria!
 
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