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

1/26/2008 - Tennis

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."

"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."