Sharapova doesn't drop a set on the way to Aussie Open title

Updated: January 26, 2008, 10:14 AM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Maria Sharapova's acceptance speech was as polished as her game at the Australian Open.

A year after being on the wrong end of one of the most-lopsided losses in a Grand Slam final, Sharapova wrapped up her third major title with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over fourth-seeded Ana Ivanovic on Saturday.

The 20-year-old Russian didn't drop a set in seven matches at Melbourne Park, including wins over three of the top four ranked players, erasing 12 months worth of painful memories in the wake of her 6-1, 6-2 loss to Serena Williams last year.

After Ivanovic sprayed a forehand wide on match point, Sharapova dropped to her knees and appeared to be fighting back tears as she waved and blew kisses to the crowd.

Then she dropped her racket in her chair before heading to shake hands and exchange high-fives with her father and supporters.

She clasped her hands and swayed as she stood, waiting to receive the Daphne Akhurst Trophy, then told the Rod Laver Arena crowd that she'd received a text message from tennis great Billie Jean King telling her "Champions take chances and pressure is a privilege."

[+] EnlargeMaria Sharapova
Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesMaria Sharapova, winner of the 2004 Wimbledon and 2006 U.S. Open, captured her third Grand Slam title Saturday in Melbourne, Australia.

"I took mine," Sharapova said.

Sharapova wished her mother, Yelena, a happy birthday and told her how she planned to spend some of her $1,207,790 prize money.

"With this big fat check, I'm going to send you a bunch of roses," she said. "Last year I lost on her birthday and this year I said I'm going to make it up to her, and I did."

Sharapova said she "wasn't even close to winning last year."

"It's incredible. If somebody would've told me during the middle of last year I'd be here I'd have said, 'Forget it."'

Sharapova, seeded fifth, struggled with a shoulder injury last year and slipped from No. 1 to outside the top 5. She rallied to make the final of the season-ending championship, losing in three long sets to top-ranked Justine Henin.

Sharapova said when her coach and hitting partner Michael Joyce's mother died, it helped her cope with the hard times.

Every time she went out to play or practice "Jane was the name we were thinking about," Sharapova said. "I want to dedicate this win to her because after the loss [(Joyce] suffered, I got a whole lot of perspective with my injuries and setbacks.

"It helped me prioritize so many things that were outside of tennis."

Ivanovic is projected to rise to No. 2 in the rankings despite the loss. Sharapova will remain at No. 5 when the new list is released next week.

Sharapova leads their head-to-heads 3-2, avenging a straight-sets loss to the Serbian player in the French Open semifinals last year.

Ivanovic, also 20, is 0-2 in Grand Slam finals after losing the French Open championship match to Henin.

"I'm very emotional and you guys made it a very special experience for me," she told the crowd as tears welled in her eyes.

Sharapova was aggressive from the start and, apart from one bad service game in the first set that allowed Ivanovic back to 4-4, controlled the important points against a Serbian player for the second consecutive match.

She beat No. 3 Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals after ending top-ranked Justine Henin's 32-match winning streak in the quarterfinals.

Sharapova set up triple match point and waited patiently as Ivanovic saved two before the Russian could add to her titles at Wimbledon in 2004 and the 2006 U.S. Open.

On a hot, sunny day with temperatures touching 93 degrees, people in the crowd were fanning themselves, and Sharapova retreated to the shade behind the baselines to gather herself between points.

It was Australia Day, so organizers put small national flags at each seat. But there were plenty of Serbian and Russian flags, too.

Most of the signs scattered around a packed arena were pretty clear, including one that said "Quiet please Maria," referring to Sharapova's high-pitched grunts that get louder and louder as pressure rises.

Both players showed some nerves in the first set, with Ivanovic particularly shaky, committing 19 unforced errors to just six winners.

Serving at 2-2, Ivanovic set up double break point with a double fault, then sent a forehand long.

After holding serve the first three times at love, Sharapova returned the favor, committing three double faults while serving at 4-3, the last two at deuce to hand the game to Ivanovic.

But she shrugged off the setback, running off the last three games, breaking to go ahead 6-5, then pumping her fist and shouting "Go Maria! Come on!" Taking every second possible between points, Sharapova then held at love.

From 3-3 in the second set, Sharapova ran off the last three games again, breaking Ivanovic twice.

The advice from King, who won 12 Grand Slam singles titles, was a great help, Sharapova said.

"When I was playing junior tennis she'd turn up and talk to my parents and give them advice and talk to me," Sharapova said. Now she's always someone to give me advice

"I woke up this morning to her text ... I had those great words in my mind during the match."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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