Sharapova taking center stage at Wimbledon

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England - For a 17-year-old tennis player who just reached her first Grand Slam semifinal, Maria Sharapova isn't just happy to be there. She's got bigger things in mind.

''I want to win this tournament,'' she said of her most successful run at Wimbledon. ''I want it very bad. When you have a big passion for something and you want to achieve something, I'm going to give it my all.''

Sharapova is the youngest player to make the Wimbledon semifinals since Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova both got there in 1997 at 16. Hingis beat Kournikova in the semis and then won the title.

Email newsletter signup

Hingis is retired, and Kournikova has been off the tour for months with chronic injuries.

Sharapova, a 6-foot blonde with a modeling contract, has often been compared to Kournikova. But while Kournikova has never won a tour singles title, Sharapova has already won three, including the Wimbledon warmup tournament in Birmingham, England.

Now she's two wins away from the biggest prize in the game.

Sharapova's first appearance on Centre Court resembled the coming-out party of a new diva. After winning the last five games to beat Ai Sugiyama 5-7, 7-5, 6-1, on Tuesday, she soaked up the ovation, throwing her arms in the air and blowing kisses to the crowd.

''It's a very good feeling,'' Sharapova said. ''But I'm not going to think it's destined to be or it's not destined to be. I just want to keep going and keep playing and keep having fun.''

Sharapova finished with 44 winners and nine aces. She also showed she's not only a baseliner, hitting 10 volley winners and taking 16 points at the net.

''I was very proud of myself because I don't do that quite enough as I would like to,'' she said.

Her opponent in Thursday's semifinals will be 1999 champion Lindsay Davenport, a 28-year-old American playing in her 12th, and possibly last, Wimbledon. Sharapova is respectful but not awed or intimidated by the three-time Grand Slam winner.

''We both hit a pretty powerful ball, both have a pretty good serve,'' she said. ''She's a great champion. I mean, she's won this tournament and I want this tournament, so it's going to be interesting.''

Davenport faced another teenage star in the fourth round, beating 19-year-old Croat Karolina Sprem 6-2, 6-2. Davenport knows what it's like to be the youngster playing a champion. She was 17 when she reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 1994 Australian Open and faced Steffi Graf.

She's never played Sharapova, but knows all about her.

''She has a big game,'' Davenport said. ''I'm a huge fan of her game and how she plays. It's going to be a huge matchup. She serves well and hits big groundstrokes. We're both baseliners and we both hit pretty hard.''

Davenport hasn't won a Grand Slam title since the Australian Open in 2000. This is her first time in the Wimbledon semifinals since 2001. Since then she's struggled with knee and foot injuries and slipped from No. 1 to No. 5 in the rankings. But Davenport has been injury-free this year and feels back in the groove playing on grass - her favorite surface.

''This is my 12th year, and to still be successful and still be at the top of the game, is a huge accomplishment,'' she said. ''I still have a lot of confidence in myself, especially the faster the court the better.''