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Friday, July 2, 2004
Serena should win third title

By Pam Shriver
Special to

When I got to my one major final, I looked up at the U.S. Open board at my name. It's really awesome to see a draw of 128 and your own name as one of the final two. That's what Maria Sharapova sees at age 17.

Serena Williams was, of course, the favorite to get through to the final. She's been looking increasingly more determined and intense, so it's no surprise she's in Saturday's final.

It's not a shock Sharapova is in the final, but it is a surprise. When you have the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked players out -- Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters -- that's a big enough hole to give someone who is playing well a breakthrough chance. Sharapova might have been here anyway, but it would be a much tougher draw with the top two in it.

In the quarterfinals last year, Sharapova showed she had a big serve and ground strokes suited to grass. Yet, when you've won two titles in a row and are in the final again as Serena is, you have a big advantage. But Sharapova can look at Serena's semifinal with Amelie Mauresmo and take some hope from that. Serena seems to have shown her best in the middle of the tournament and now is struggling a bit.

Sharapova will need to keep her forehand aggressive yet consistent to withstand the pressure Serena will send at her. In fact, because they are the breakdown shots, the forehands of both players in this final will be important.

Sharapova moves better than, say, Lindsay Davenport and she'll hang in on the demanding points Serena will offer up. Sharapova's ability to win enough of those physical points will be important for her.

We'll see what role the crowd plays as Sharapova will be the favorite. Serena's had crowds against her before, and this one is nothing like the vocal French Open crowd.

For Serena it's important to look across the net and not see her sister Venus. She's never been able to compete for the title here without the drag of facing her sister. And let's face it, it's a drag.

The pick is Serena to win, but it will be interesting to see how Sharapova handles it. Already, early in her professional career, she's handled every situation with great maturity. That shouldn't change here and because of that, this should be a fun final.

ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver won 21 singles and 112 doubles crowns, including 22 Grand Slam titles.