Shara­pova finds her­self as the vet­eran

Shanghai Daily - - SPORTS -

ONCE a teen sen­sa­tion, Maria Shara­pova is find­ing her­self as the el­der stateswoman at Wim­ble­don this year.

At 24, the Rus­sian and three­time grand slam cham­pion is the old­est of the women’s semi­fi­nal­ists at the All Eng­land Club, and by far the most ex­pe­ri­enced.

The other three re­main­ing play­ers — Vic­to­ria Azarenka, Pe­tra Kvi­tova and Sabine Lisicki — are all 21 and have no grand slam fi­nals among them. Only Kvi­tova has even reached a grand slam semi­fi­nal be­fore, hav­ing made the last four at Wim­ble­don last year as well.

Be­ing the vet­eran is a new sit­u­a­tion for Shara­pova, who was just 17 when she won her only Wim­ble­don ti­tle in 2004.

“I think a few years don’t re­ally make that much of a dif­fer­ence,” the fifth-seeded Shara­pova said. “I think maybe if I achieved big things when I was a lit­tle bit older, not 17, maybe I wouldn’t be seen as more of a vet­eran. I’d still be con­sid­ered young. But I don’t re­gret for a sec­ond that I had a lot of suc­cess when I was young, be­cause I feel like I got to learn so much more than play­ers at my age.”

Shara­pova will play Lisicki to­day, the 62nd-ranked Ger­man who be­came only the sec­ond wild­card to reach the women’s semis at Wim­ble­don af­ter China’s Zheng Jie in 2008. The fifth- ranked Azarenka of Be­larus plays No. 8 Kvi­tova of the Czech Repub­lic.

Shara­pova fol­lowed up her Wim­ble­don ti­tle by win­ning the 2006 US Open and 2008 Aus­tralian Open, be­fore shoul­der surgery that year de­railed the next 10 months and forced her to dras­ti­cally change her serve. But af­ter dom­i­nat­ing Do­minika Cibulkova of Slo­vakia 6-1, 6-1 on Tues­day, she fi­nally looks close to be­ing the same player who reached the No. 1 rank­ing in 2005.

Young chal­lengers

Shara­pova hasn’t been this far at Wim­ble­don since 2006, with the Wil­liams sis­ters hav­ing dom­i­nated the grass­court grand slam since Shara­pova’s 2004 vic­tory. She just has to get past those young chal­lengers first. None of them are ex­actly new faces in women’s ten­nis, the way Shara­pova was when she had her break­through.

“In one sense, yeah, they’re com­ing up, be­cause they’re reach­ing the big­ger stages of the grand slams and they’re try­ing to win their first one as well,” Shara­pova said. “But I also feel it’s not the first time I’m see­ing them in the draw or see­ing them at the tour­na­ment, as well. It’s not like they’re 15 or 16 years old.”

Still, re­gard­less of who wins this year, it will be the youngest women’s cham­pion since Shara­pova’s vic­tory.

Rus­sia’s Maria Shara­pova blows kisses to the crowd af­ter de­feat­ing Slo­vakia’s Do­minika Cibulkova 6-1, 6-1 in their quar­ter­fi­nal match on Tues­day. — AP

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