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Sharapova stands tall to reach final
Serena takes out Mauresmo; still the one to beat

By Sandra Harwitt
Special to *******************

http://www.*******************/tr.net_photos_art/SHARAPOVA_sm_wb_04_joy_300.jpg​
http://www.*******************/tr.net_photos_art/DAVENPORT_sm_wb_04_frown_300.jpghttp://www.*******************/tr.net_photos_art/SERENA_fm_wb_04_mad_300.jpghttp://www.*******************/tr.net_photos_art/MAURESMO_sm_wb_04_chip_300.jpg
Susan and Fred Mullane/Camerawork USA​
The semifinalists: Winner Maria Sharapova, loser Lindsay Davenport, winner Serena Williams, loser Amelie Mauresmo



Geographically speaking, Wimbledon finalist Maria Sharapova is a winning blend of Russian citizen-American resident in that she spent the first years of her life in icy Siberia, moving at 9 to balmy Florida to train for a future life as a tennis champion. Clearly, the contrasting climates have translated well into Sharapova's performance at this year's Wimbledon: She's playing red-hot tennis and is freezing out opponents at will.

As many are well aware, Sharapova is not the first statuesque Russian blond teen with a modeling contract to hit the tennis radar screen. But unlike the exceptionally popular Russian, Anna Kournikova, who was 16 when she reached the '97 Wimbledon semifinal, Sharapova's mind does not get muddled in all the glamour.

At 17 years, two months old, Sharapova is all business – tennis business, that is. And after fighting back from 6-2, 3-1 down in a rain-delayed semifinal against former champion Lindsay Davenport, Sharapova carved out a 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 win in one hour, 53 minutes. Sharapova is now the youngest Wimbledon finalist since Martina Hingis captured the famed "Rosewater dish" at age 16 in 1997.

Now Sharapova will face the toughest test possible by taking on two-time defending champion Serena Williams, who put in a gutsy performance to win a 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 6-4 uphill battle against fourth-seed Amelie Mauresmo.

While outsiders are quick to make comparisons to the attractive Kournikova, the No. 13 seeded Sharapova is much more intent on carving out her own reputation, a goal she is becoming increasingly effective in meeting. And it's hard to draw the comparison at this juncture, with Kournikova sidelined for over a year with a serious back injury and still yet to win a career title; while Sharapova has won three career trophies, including the Birmingham grass tune-up trophy a few weeks ago, and is now in position to win a first Grand Slam trophy.

DIDN'T EXPECT TO MAKE IT SO FAR
Personality-wise, Sharapova seems to possess an infectious combination of mature competitor and youthful delight. After working to calm her nerves to eventually upend the 28-year-old Davenport, who is quite likely to have bid farewell to Wimbledon forever with her semifinal finish, Sharapova was all innocence. The teenager said, "It's unbelievable. I'm in the final. It's absolutely crazy. It's my favorite Grand Slam. I don't know what to say, I'm going to cry right now."

Sharapova has been a serious threat to emerge as a major name in the game for a while. Now she's showing that all the talk was not just talk, but a careful analysis of the talent she possesses.

"The women's tennis today was terrific and it's been a long time since I've been able to say that," said former player and TV commentator Mary Carillo. "Sharapova is gutsy and bold. She reminds me of when [Boris] Becker took this place over when he was 17-years-old. I don't think she's going to be happy unless she wins this thing and I like the look of that."

Nevertheless, Sharapova is the first to admit that she never expected to be in contention for a Wimbledon title at such young age.

"I never expected it to happen so early in my life," she said, honestly. "I knew I could achieve many things if I worked hard and if I believed in myself but I never expected to do so well at such an early age. I mean, good results, yeah ... but to get to the final of Wimbledon – my favorite tournament – is just amazing."

Unnerved by the fact that the veteran Davenport was ahead, even twice coming close enough to be a point away from serving for the match in the second set, Sharapova continued on as if opportunity was knocking. In the end, Sharapova's aggressive nature that led her to 46 outright winners to only 26 for Davenport, made her the first Russian since Olga Morozova in 1974 to reach the Wimbledon final.

Serena takes out Mauresmo; still the one to beat
As for Williams, it's hard not to applaud her ability to knock on a tournament door after playing little tennis all year long, not to mention moving fairly unscathed into the final. Nevertheless, her ability to fade in-and-out of the game as opposed to displaying a full-time passion for tennis continues to raise questions as to the message that ability sends.

Clearly, Williams is still in control; a force to be reckoned with at any time. Thus far in this fortnight, Mauresmo presented the only powerful challenge to push Williams towards the exit. The problem is Serena tends to pick the spots when she wants to ignite her competitive spirit and to not be thinking about missing out on choice acting assignments. As it stands, Williams is free to come and go from tennis as she likes, but it doesn't help the sport for someone to be able to move in-and-out of the game with little consequence.

An astute student of the game, Carillo admits that it concerns her when Serena can put in a part-time commitment and fare well because she believes "tennis is not a game you can play part-time and be a champion." It is her impression that this Wimbledon has revived Serena's competitive juices, and she's quite confident that Serena understands it is her tennis champion status that opens doors to acting jobs and designing clothes.

MAURESMO MISSES ANOTHER FINAL
In the here and now, Thursday was another disappointing day for the superbly talented Mauresmo, who is six long years from her only Grand Slam final appearance at the '99 Australian Open.
Mauresmo, however, who became bothered by her chronic lower back problem when leading the match midway through the second set, has a very positive note to take away from the encounter. The match could actually be a corner turned for the Frenchwoman, who has so often lost matches because she was quite frankly a "head case." This match against Serena, however, was a superb athletic encounter and despite the situation with her back, Mauresmo showed she does have the character to fight to the very end and not crumble. This is a trait that she should keep in her bag of tricks if she hopes to one day score what would be a well-deserved Grand Slam trophy.

And for Davenport, who possibly needs further surgery on an already repaired knee and sees motherhood in the not-to-distant future, she leaves Wimbledon, possibly for the last time, knowing she gave the attempt to win a fourth Grand Slam title her very best effort.

But for tennis fans, the potential for a VERY compelling women's final seems in the offing. And unless Sharapova decides for the first time this fortnight that she's nervous – thus far she's playing fearless tennis – she should give the reigning champion a run for her money.
 

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Watching Maria play is a special treat! I wish her all the best against Serena. And to be honest, I CAN see Maria taking out Serena if Serena has an off day like she did against Momo. Cheers girls! :yeah:
 
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