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Saturday, July 3, 2004
Sharapova showed champion's mindset

By Pam Shriver
Special to ESPN.com

There's a brand-new superstar in women's tennis. Maria Sharapova has the game, the presence and the look.

What a final! Forget that Sharapova's only 17; that first set was flawless. We saw flashes of that ability in her quarterfinal with Ai Sugiyama and semifinal against Lindsay Davenport. But to come out that way against Serena Williams -- fighting from the first ball hit -- proved Sharapova's mindset. Then to win the first set 6-1, doing that to Serena on a grass court, is one of the most impressive finals I've seen.

Everything in Sharapova's game held up well. In the second set, Serena couldn't convert when faced with a couple of chances. She broke Sharapova only to lose on her own serve the next game. Serena couldn't hold onto any momentum. That signaled to Sharapova that this was her chance against Serena. She wasn't the same ruthless Serena she was during her Slam run. Instead, Serena felt the intimidation factor of Sharapova, which you never would have expected to happen this soon. Serena had a near perfect record in major finals with the only blemish her loss to Venus at the 2001 U.S. Open.

As for Sharapova, as she accepted the trophy she indicated that she already sees herself in other major finals and sees herself winning more titles. That's an attitude that has be groomed and is a result of the environment she was brought up in.

Sharapova is still restricted in the number of tournaments she can play because of the WTA's age rule. There's going to be some pressure on the WTA if Sharapova wants to play a full schedule as the Wimbledon winner. When Martina Hingis won at an even younger age, she was not under the constraints of the age restrictions in place now. Of course, she's also retired at age 23.

As for women's tennis, Sharapova's performance brought it back to a level it had lost in the past year. After no excitement at the Australian Open until the final and no matches of interest at the French Open, the semifinals and final at Wimbledon were intriguing.

Perhaps people will be more sympathetic and supportive of the the Williams sisters now that they've shown they are vulnerable to injury and defeat. Neither of them is holding one of the major titles anymore. Despite that, Serena was so gracious in the way she received Sharapova. Smiling genuinely at the joy of a first-time major winner. She allowed Sharapova to shine and indicated she was happy simply to have reached the final after such a long injury recovery.

There's still a big need in women's tennis to get everybody healthy. If somehow both Belgians could return at the U.S. Open to join the Williams sisters, Jennifer Capriati, Davenport (in her last appearance there) and the rising Russian brigade, it would revive the level of the sport.

Coming into this year, who would have guessed that the first three major winners would be Justine Henin-Hardenne, Anastasia Myskina and Maria Sharapova? With the top two seeds in Roger Federer and Andy Roddick reaching the men's final, for the first time in a while men's tennis is more predictable than women's tennis. Despite all the rain delays, this Wimbledon is turning out to be a cool event.

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