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Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Legendary compliment for Maria Sharapova

By Sandra Harwitt

Tennis legend Billie Jean King, who won 39 Grand Slam trophies, including a record 20 at Wimbledon, sees a new generation coming through at the top of the women's game. Relaxing on the players' lawn at Wimbledon, King said the semifinal lineup of Maria Sharapova against Sabine Lisicki and Petra Kvitova against Victoria Azarenka is proof.

While Sharapova is the veteran of the group with three Grand Slam titles, King offered a reminder that the Russian is only 24 and should be able to win another major or two. Sharapova won her first Grand Slam as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon in 2004.

"Sharapova's playing the best tennis I've ever seen her play," King said. "One thing I love about her is that when I met her when she was 13 I asked her, 'Do you have a dream?' She said, 'I want to be a star.' I asked her what does that mean. Do you want to be like [Anna] Kournikova and make lots of money and be Top 10? And she said, 'No, no, no. I want to be No. 1.'

"I think she still has that fire in the belly."

King also is a fan of Sharapova's fiance, NBA player Sasha Vujacic. Sharapova introduced King to Vujacic last summer.

"When I met him during Team Tennis last July I told her, 'He's a keeper,' King said. "He's just so grounded. He understands her and sports, and what it is to be a professional athlete. That is huge to have as a partner because you know the guy gets it and knows how hard it is."

History on Hold

Roger Federer has had the art of rewriting history practically down to a science during his career. He has won a record 16 Grand Slam titles; Pete Sampras held the previous mark with 14.

When Federer arrived at Wimbledon this year, a big question was whether he would equal Sampras' seven career Wimbledon titles. That won't happen now after Federer fell to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

"Obviously it's the second year running that the talk has been about me equaling Pete's seven Wimbledons," Federer said. "I love equaling any record Pete has made, but it's not the driving force behind my motivation, really."

Minutes after Federer lost, reporters already were speculating whether he would win another major. Federer's last Grand Slam victory was at the 2010 Australian Open.

"I think it's pretty tough for anybody right now to win Grand Slams," Federer said. "But one will win the tournament. The other 12-something players will not. That's what's tough in tennis. Knockout systems are pretty rough.

"But I think I definitely can, yes. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't the case."

Club Croatia

Bernard Tomic has an international background. He was born in Germany, is of Croatian heritage and has been raised in Australia, where he is a citizen.

The 18-year-old showed he's a player to watch for the future in his first career Grand Slam quarterfinal at Wimbledon. He challenged No. 2 Novak Djokovic before losing 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 on Wednesday.

Former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia was interested in Tomic and sat courtside at the match. After three failed Wimbledon finals, Ivanisevic won his lone Grand Slam title at Wimbledon when he beat Australian Pat Rafter in the 2001 final.

Tomic said he chatted with Ivanisevic, who offered an encouraging word: "He said, 'Look, if you don't win it this time, you'll win it one day.'''

Thursday's Dance Card

No. 4 Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) vs. No. 8 Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)

These players are tied 2-2 in career meetings, but Kvitova has taken the past two. In their only previous grass-court outing in the Wimbledon third round last year, Kvitova won in two sets, taking the second set at love. Azarenka has the higher ranking, but Kvitova is mentally more solid at this stage.

No. 5 Maria Sharapova (Russia) vs. Sabine Lisicki (Germany)

Lisicki is playing the best tennis of her career and has collected a couple of impressive scalps in reaching the semifinals: French Open champ Li Na and No. 9 Marion Bartoli. Lisicki certainly can pressure Sharapova, especially with her big serve. But Sharapova's experience as a three-time Grand Slam titlist gives her that certain something that will translate to a final berth.