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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 12:57 GMT 13:57 UK
More than blonde ambition
By Sarah Holt

Maria Sharapova

Russia's Maria Sharapova is not the new Anna Kournikova.

Yes the 17-year-old blonde bombshell's glamorous looks - not to mention all that on-court grunting - have had heads turning at Wimbledon.

And yes they both turned professional at the tender age of 14 after being groomed in Florida.

And, I will hand it to you, both signed lucrative modelling contracts to supplement their on-court income.

But there the comparisons must end because Sharapova is Russia's first Wimbledon champion.

On Saturday the teenager wowed the gasping Centre Court crowd with her tennis - not her looks - as she swept aside defending champion Serena Williams.

Kournikova never won a singles title or got beyond the last four at a Grand Slam.

Now, Sharapova is the youngest female to win Wimbledon since Martina Hingis clinched the title in 1997.

But should we really be surprised by her prolific rise to the top? Probably not.

At the age of nine Sharapova was deposited on the doorstep of Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Florida by her father Yuri.

Her mother Yelena stayed in Siberia, separated from the pair, for the next two years because of visa restrictions.

Bollettieri, who immediately spotted the youngster's potential, points to the family's sacrifice and belief as the key to Sharapova's success.

"Yuri found the right people who could help his daughter become the best tennis player possible," Bollettieri told The Independent.

SHARAPOVA FACTS
Born: 19/04/1987
Coach: Robert Lansdorp & Yuri Sharapov
Career singles titles: 3
Grand Slams: 1
World ranking: 15
Career prize money: $0.53m
"He has stayed right by her, giving her every support but crucially he let those people (the coaches) get on with their job."

Her family's gamble not only equipped Sharapova with physical skills on court it also instilled her with a mental toughness and determination.

During the media conference after her semi-final defeat over Lindsay Davenport, Sharapova's sunny demeanour dropped only once - when her family's involvement in her career was questioned.

"I don't know why you would say that about my father," Sharapova had answered with narrowed eyes.

"I owe a lot to my parents. The move to the US was an amazing sacrifice and you either win or you lose."

Sharapova shows this same steeliness on court.

Twice at Wimbledon this year she has battled back from a set down - in the quarter-finals against Ai Sugiyama and the semis against Davenport - and then gone on assert her dominance by taking the deciders 6-1.

There were also signs that, as well as the ambition and self-belief, the 17-year-old also had the game for grass.

In her breakthrough season in 2003, Sharapova reached her first Tour semi-final as a qualifier - on grass at Birmingham.

She then went on to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon at her first attempt.

DID YOU KNOW?
Sharapova started hitting tennis balls at age of four; at six, participated in exhibition in Moscow which featured Martina Navratilova
She turned professional on her 14th birthday
She's still in the second year of high school. Studying sociology, algebra and English via internet
She signed with IMG Models in November 2003
Likes: Pippi Longstocking books, Russian music and food, singing and jazz dancing

This season Sharapova made the ideal preparations for a return to SW19 by claiming the Birmingham title.

In fact she doubled her efforts, grabbing the doubles crown alongside fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko.

Watching Sharapova wield her racquet on Centre Court against Williams, it was clear she meant business.

The 17-year-old was undaunted by either the occasion or her mighty opponent and refused to allow fear to diminish her talent.

Sharapova answered Williams, perhaps the game's most powerful hitter, with a string of fierce forehand returns - and her backhand was not far behind either.

The Russian does not serve-and-volley but staying back helped her read the game.

Time and again she sent Williams chasing round the court as she dominated from the baseline.

And when she went a break down in the second set, Sharapova spun on her heel, sent her icy stare across the net and broke straight back.

Sharapova's triumph against the odds proved that this Siberian sensation is a lot more than just a pretty face.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Watch highlights of Sharapova's win



Interview: Maria Sharapova




SEE ALSO
Sharapova is tough nut to crack
01 Jul 04  |  Tennis
Sharapova battles through
29 Jun 04  |  Tennis
Sharapova claims title
13 Jun 04  |  Tennis



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