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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 July, 2004, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Sharapova ignites memorable Wimbledon
By Caroline Cheese
BBC Sport at Wimbledon

Maria Sharapova (left) and beaten Wimbledon finalist Serena Williams
After an instantly forgettable French Open, the women's game needed a spectacular Wimbledon - and boy, did it deliver.

Even if Maria Sharapova's first Grand Slam final had ended in defeat, which most had predicted, it would have been a good tournament.

As it was, it will live in the memory for years to come thanks to the Russian's astounding performance in the final.

Centre Court was treated to the sight of the all-conquering Serena Williams being overpowered and out-thought by a 17-year-old in her first Grand Slam final.

It was simply breathtaking to witness.

After so many all-Williams and all-Belgian Grand Slam finals, the absorbing second set in which the champion fought desperately to cling on to her title was a joy to behold.

And Wimbledon had begun so inauspiciously with the withdrawals of the world numbers one and two, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters.

TOP FIVE STARS
Maria Sharapova
Welcome to the big time
Tatiana Golovin
Give it a year and she will be threatening the top 10
Karolina Sprem
Can be spectacular, or spectacularly inconsistent, but never dull
Serena Williams
Actress, fashion designer and not a bad tennis player when she puts her mind to it
Amelie Mauresmo
Serena semi could have gone either way and was the stand-out match of the tournament
In truth the Belgian duo were hardly missed.

In their place came Sharapova and two other teenagers who played the kind of tennis that justifies the WTA Tour's assertion that the women's game is in rude health - despite the spate of injuries.

The Russian burned the brightest of all.

The 17-year-old was tipped as a future star in her early teens by which time she had already signed a clothing contract with Nike and been snapped up by marketing giants IMG.

The weight of expectation, and the comparisons to Anna Kournikova, might have crushed her but Wimbledon saw her arrival on the biggest stage - and she looked like she owned it.

Were it not for Sharapova's march to the title, Karolina Sprem might have got more attention that she did.

The 19-year-old Croat beat twice former champion Venus Williams in the second round, a win that was overshadowed by umpire Ted Watts' incredible error during the second set tie-break.

Sprem was awarded a 'phantom point' but, as Venus magnanimously admitted, it made no difference to the outcome.

TOP FIVE FLOPS
Venus Williams
Not the player she was. Does she have the desire to rediscover her best?
Jennifer Capriati
Has the march of time caught up with her? Looked to have run out of fight in her quarter against Serena
Anastasia Myskina
French Open champ went out in third round
Svetlana Kuznetsova
Wins Eastbourne warm-up, goes out in the first round at SW19
Ted Watts
The 'Sprem Donor' will never be allowed to forget his astonishing error
Hitting the ball with devastating power, Sprem blasted two more seeded players aside before she was outdone by the experienced Lindsay Davenport in the quarter-finals.

If she can now combine power with consistency, Sprem could be a top 10 player soon.

France's Tatiana Golovin trained with Sharapova at the Nick Bolletieri Academy in Florida and at the age of 16 reached the last 16 at Wimbledon.

Her career is following a strikingly similar path to Sharapova, and it will be no surprise if she is the one grabbing the headlines a year from now.

Golovin's fellow Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo was another to leave SW19 with enormous credit, after giving Williams a fright in the semi-finals - and never once choking, as she has in the past.

The negatives were few and far between.

Former champion Lindsay Davenport confessed she had lost the hunger to win after going down to Sharapova in the other semi-final, and admitted she is unlikely to return to SW19.

Serena's sister Venus is now into a fourth year without a Grand Slam title, and there are few signs she will buck the trend any time soon - but her exit was relegated to a footnote by subsequent events at Wimbledon.

The US Open cannot come soon enough, by which time Henin-Hardenne, and perhaps Clijsters, could also be ready to join the party.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Wimbledon women's final highlights



Interview: Maria Sharapova



Interview: Serena Willams





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