Saturday, July 3, 2004

Sharapova seeks to break up monopoly

By Steven Wine
The Associated Press

WIMBLEDON, England - The shout came from the stands on Centre Court.

"Come on, Serena!"

Quick as an ace was the response from another section.

"Come on, Venus!"

The crowd at the Wimbledon semifinals laughed. Venus Williams was long gone, a second-round loser last week. In a breach with recent tradition, Serena Williams' opponent in the final today instead will be tennis' newest star, 17-year-old Maria Sharapova.

Venus Williams played in the past four finals, winning the title in 2000 and 2001, then losing to her sister in 2002 and 2003. Sharapova will attempt to end the family's reign.

Born in Siberia and trained in Florida, she's the third-youngest female finalist at the sport's oldest event. Martina Hingis won the title in 1997 at 16, and Lottie Dod was the champion in 1887 at 15.

"I've just been enjoying the moment," the No. 13-seeded Sharapova said Friday. "Every time I think about it, that I'm in the final, it's an amazing feeling."

Sharapova got to the final by beating top-15 players Ai Sugiyama and Lindsay Davenport on Centre Court, each time after losing the first set.

"I think that's one of my strengths - that I fight, and I really want to win," she said. "I was never that kind of person that I wanted to practice and get myself better. I just wanted to compete and ... I wanted to win."

Williams won the first of her six major titles at age 17, at the 1999 U.S. Open.

"When you're younger, you have nothing to lose," said Williams, 22. "It's like you can just go for broke."

The only previous meeting between the finalists came at Miami in March, with Williams winning 6-4, 6-3. The victory came in her third match following an eight-month layoff after knee surgery.

"She's a better player than she was in Miami," Williams said. "But I'm a much better player than I was in Miami, too."

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