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Sharapova wins U.S. Open debut

By HAL BOCK, AP Sports Writer
August 26, 2003
NEW YORK (AP) -- The squeals followed Maria Sharapova around the court as she spent a few postmatch moments signing hats, programs, oversized tennis balls, everything thrust her way by fans of all ages.

``Maria!, Maria! Maria!''

It was a shrill salute to the sport's latest glamour girl, a teenager embraced by a tennis crowd always hungry for new stars. She seems made for the part.

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Born in Siberia and raised in Florida, Sharapova burst on the scene this season, reaching the fourth round as a wild card at Wimbledon. Not bad for a player who came into that tournament ranked No. 91.

At age 16, Sharapova made her U.S. Open debut Tuesday with 6-1, 6-1 rubout of Virginia Ruano Pascual that was not as easy as the score suggested. It took 1 hour, 14 minutes. There were a half-dozen deuces as she fought to gain the first break of the match.

Each time, Ruano Pascual fought off the break point, Sharapova seemed to turn up the heat, urging herself on, pumping her fist.

It was a mixture of tenacity and intensity that seemed unusual for a player her age. She has, however, been at this for a while.

Sharapova began playing tennis at age 4 and has lived in Florida since she was 6. She trains at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton and also works in Los Angeles with Robert Lansdorp, who coached Tracy Austin.

So this wasn't any old teenager facing Ruano Pascual.

Wearing a pink dress and her blond hair in a ponytail, Sharapova bore down from the start. There were shrieks that have become her calling card and hard glares when she missed opportunities.

This is a player who means business.

There has been some grumbling about the yelps that accompany her shots. They do not concern Sharapova.

``I haven't been working on that at all,'' she said. ``I just play tennis out there. I don't think about what's going on. That's the last thing on my mind. I'm here to play tennis.''

Because she is blond, attractive and Russian, Sharapova has been compared to Anna Kournikova, who also turned heads when she first showed up on the WTA Tour.

Sharapova wants none of that.

``I always just try to be myself,'' she said. ``I don't worry about who people think I am. I know I'm Maria, nobody else. I just want to do my own thing. I'm Maria Sharapova and not anyone else.''

And the rankings confirm that. Kournikova, sidelined from this tournament by nagging injuries is No. 146. Sharapova is No. 54.


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