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Wimbledon champion Sharapova leaps to stardomBy STEVE WILSTEIN, AP Sports Columnist
July 3, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Get ready for the Maria Sharapova marketing blitz.

You'll see the new Wimbledon champion on all the talk shows, on sports and glamour magazine covers, in print ads and TV commercials.

She is 17 and about to become the world's most coveted female sports star.

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Born in Russia, made in America, blessed with a fashion model's looks, a champion's game and poise far beyond her years, Sharapova is a marketing maven's dream.

``I hope it doesn't change the person I am right now because I really don't want that to happen,'' Sharapova said after her universe was unalterably transformed Saturday by a 6-1, 6-4 rout of two-time defending champion Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final. ``I already told a few people, 'If I change, then hit me in the head, please.'''

Serena and Venus Williams gave women's tennis a huge boost and made their own considerable impacts on fashion when they became champions. Anna Kournikova did the same without even winning. Now it's Sharapova's turn to grab the spotlight.

Sudden fame and fortune have a way of spinning many a teen's head out of control but there is something about Maria Sharapova that suggests she may be immune to the perils of stardom. Ask her what her most significant attribute is and she is quick to say it is her mental fortitude.

``I'm just a very tough person when I go on the court,'' she said. ``I just love to win and I want to fight.''

She showed that over and over against Williams, outlasting her in rallies, sending her scrambling side to side and pinning her behind the baseline with deep, flat groundstrokes into the corners. When Williams ventured toward the net, Sharapova craftily lobbed over her head or angled two-fisted backhands past her.

No one could tell from watching her that Sharapova was also fighting off a sore throat that had her in tears the night before, worrying she might be too sick to play.

Rarely has anyone, even Venus Williams, ever countered Serena's pace with greater pace and so completely dominated her in a match. Never has anyone this young, playing in her first Grand Slam final, so thoroughly crushed a defending champion as Sharapova did in the 30-minute opening set.

More than 6,000 miles away, her coach, Robert Lansdorp, watched from his home in Torrance, Calif. Lansdorp, 65 and unable to come to Wimbledon this year because of a bad hip, had coached Tracy Austin, turning her into the youngest U.S. Open champion when she won the first of her two titles at 16 in 1979. He also coached Pete Sampras for many years until he was 20, as well as Lindsay Davenport.

``Maria has the same composure, the same determination as Tracy,'' Lansdorp said by telephone. ``Like all the great champions, Maria has no fear.''

Boris Becker, who also won his first Wimbledon at 17, summed up what he thought made Sharapova a champion: ``Nerves of steel or the innocence of youth.''

Maybe her whole cinematic journey through life toughened her up. Born in Siberia, Sharapova came to the United States from Russia at age 7 with her father, Yuri, who had $700 and a dream of getting her a scholarship to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Her mother, Yelena, unable to get a visa, had to stay behind for two years.

Bollettieri's academy was the home of another Russian prodigy, Kournikova, and it had been the tennis boot camp for Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier and others. Sharapova didn't get in right away. When she did, she had to endure a couple of unhappy years living in a dorm with much older girls before she was reunited with her family.

She slugged away, and then, at age 10, began going for two-week training trips in California with Lansdorp.

``I wasn't the kind of person that wanted to practice and hit ball after ball after ball,'' Sharapova said. ``I wasn't consistent enough. When I came to Robert, he was, like, 'OK, this girl has to hit ball after ball after ball until this basket is finished.' When I looked in the basket, there were about 1,000 balls in there.''

Lansdorp didn't have any fancy academy, just a rented court, and he drilled shots hard and deep to Sharapova.

``I hit the ball with so much pace against her, a foot from the baseline, and she got to the point where pace didn't bother her,'' Lansdorp said. ``That's what everyone saw today against Serena. She took Serena's pace and hit it back even harder. I didn't think she'd win Wimbledon at this age, but I knew she had the heart and mind of a champion. She knows how to play almost by instinct.''

Lansdorp said Sharapova's father is ``a pretty smart cookie'' when it comes to tennis. He came to practice one day with photos of Sampras' serve and asked Lansdorp if he could teach Maria to emulate him. She got part of his style down, the raised right foot at the start of the motion, but developed her own effective serve.

Then there was the discussion they all had about whether Sharapova should play left-handed or right-handed. She was generally right-handed, but could serve and hit forehands both ways. ``It was a toss-up, but we decided to settle on her serving and hitting forehands right-handed,'' Lansdorp said. ``But Maria hit a left-handed passing shot past (Daniela) Hantuchova last week and nobody could believe it. That girl has a lot of talents.'' Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein(at)ap.org
 

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Nice article, lighthearted and of course it talks about MASHA!!!!
Thank You!
 

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Thank you!
 

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Maria was totally awesome.:kiss: :hearts: She stood her ground and wasn't a bit impressed by whom she was playing. She moved Serena around the court and made Serena look like the "newby."

Of course, Serena was playing at "only 20%.":lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
 
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