Sunday, June 29, 2003

Wild-card Russian teen wins again

Better than Kournikova?

By Steven Wine
The Associated Press

Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts after upsetting 2000 Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Dokic, 6-4, 6-4.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
WIMBLEDON, England - Born in Siberia and raised in Florida, Maria Sharapova is blossoming at Wimbledon.

The well-traveled Russian has been a lot of places in her 16 years, and now she's in the fourth round at the world's most prestigious tennis tournament. Sharapova advanced Saturday by upsetting 2000 Wimbledon semifinalist Jelena Dokic 6-4, 6-4.

The photogenic Sharapova has drawn comparisons to Anna Kournikova and complaints about the shrieks that sometimes accompany her strokes. Now the attention is on how she's winning.

By reaching the fourth round, Sharapova matched the best showing by a female wild card at Wimbledon. Three others achieved the feat, most recently Samantha Smith of Britain in 1998.

"I'm very happy, and I'm very surprised," Sharapova said. "I'm very young, I'm 16, and I'm in the fourth round at Wimbledon. How odd is that? But I knew that one day it would come. I am surprised, but it's just reality."

She'll be joined in the second week by such stars as defending champion Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati and French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne. All won in straight sets.

Playing in the tournament for the first time, Sharapova is the youngest of five Russians among the women's final 16, a Grand Slam record. Three others won Saturday - No. 10 Anatasia Myskina, No. 15 Elena Dementieva and Svetlana Kuznetsova.

"We have so many girls in the top 100," Sharapova said. "It's wonderful to see."

Sharapova may turn out to be the best of the bunch. Born in the Nyagan, Russia, she moved to the Black Sea resort of Sochi at age 2, began playing tennis at 4 and has lived in Florida since she was 6.

She says her passport and blood are Russian, but she trains at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton and also works in Los Angeles with Robert Lansdorp, who coached Tracy Austin.

Sharapova speaks fluent English, and when she describes her tennis regimen she sounds like Yogi Berra.

"Half of my time is in Florida, half of my time is in L.A.," she said. "When I'm at tournaments, that's another half of my time."

Ranked 91st, Sharapova lost her first five matches this year and made opening-round exits at the Australian and French Open. But she found her form on grass and has decided it's her favorite surface.

She reached the semifinal two weeks ago at Birmingham, a Wimbledon warmup event. She also drew a warning there to tone down her grunting, but against Dokic there were few shrieks until the final points.

Sharapova won every game she served and closed the victory with her eighth ace. Then she gleefully dropped her racket and made a prayerful gesture to the sky.

Her showing is reminiscent of the first appearance at Wimbledon by Dokic, who upset No. 1 Martina Hingis in the first round in 1999 and went on to the quarterfinals. Dokic was then 16.

Sharapova plays Kuznetsova on Monday.

"She just comes out and swings," Dokic said. "She has nothing to lose. A lot of players still don't know the way that she plays. When you come out on the court against her, you don't know what to expect. But it will be a different story in a year or two."

Williams beat fellow American Laura Granville 6-3, 6-1 and will play Dementieva on Monday. Henin-Hardenne, seeded third, defeated Alicia Molik 6-4, 6-4.

Capriati, seeded eighth, requested treatment on her right shoulder from a trainer during the first set but still beat Akiko Morigami 6-4, 6-4.

"The shoulder is nothing serious," Capriati said. "I just had a little kink in there and wanted to get it out."

Two-time Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce advanced to a fourth-round match against Henin-Hardenne by beating No. 23 Lisa Raymond 4-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Myskina, who plays Capriati on Monday, eliminated 1994 champion Conchita Martinez 6-3, 6-3.

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