Sharapova knows she has much to learn

Updated: September 2, 2004, 12:26 AM ET
By David Boroff | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- The numbers for Maria Sharapova since Wimbledon are not impressive.

Maria Sharapova
APMaria Sharapova rebounded from a rocky second set to advance.
After sweeping her way to seven straight victories and her first major title at the All England Club, Sharapova has lost three of seven matches.

However, the most important number to keep in mind is 17 -- Sharapova's age.

She freely admits she is not an elite player yet, and still has much to learn. And she certainly has time on her side.

She learned a valuable lesson in her 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 victory over American Laura Granville in a first-round match at the U.S. Open on Tuesday. She learned she can overcome her own poor play on a large stage -- Arthur Ashe Stadium, where she was making her first singles appearance.

Sharapova, the seventh seed at the Open, made a stunning 44 unforced errors and committed eight double faults against Granville, a two-time NCAA champion who has never broken into the top 20 of the women's rankings.

And all but seven of Sharapova's errors came after the first set. She admitted to losing her focus.

"My game went off for a while," Sharapova told the USA Network. "I went to la-la land."

She would find her game just in time, winning 12 of the last 14 points after trailing 5-4 in the final set. She is now 3-0 lifetime against Granville -- all three-set victories.

Sharapova avoided becoming the first Wimbledon women's champ to lose in the first round of the U.S. Open in the modern era.

"This was a very tough one and I'm very happy I pulled it out," she said. "But, I mean, losses are just part of the game and you have to learn from them. & But even if you lose some matches, you know there are other tournaments ahead that you're going to play."

Sharapova got in and out of trouble with her all-out youthful style. Her high error total was almost offset by her 35 winners, and her powerful serve (10 aces) helped bail her out.

She knows that developing more consistency -- and improving her physical strength -- are priorities.

"Of course I'm getting better and I know that this is something I have to work on," she said. "But, like I said, these sort of things don't happen overnight, [you don't] all of a sudden wake up and you're Superman."

She had been anything but super heading into the Open. She had lost her last two matches to lesser-known players -- Vera Zvonareva of Russia and American Mashona Washington. And she knows that expectations are much higher now after Wimbledon.

"I think the world just got very excited," she said. "You know, everybody sort of wanted a piece of my victory. It's not the easiest thing. You know that there are going to be many sort of difficulties and things that you have to go through mentally. I mean, I personally know that this is not the end of many great things to come."

The escape against Granville could lead to greater things for Sharapova at the Open. Sharapova, who lost in the second round last year to Emilie Loit, plays Jelena Jankovic next -- a player she has not played before. So that should be another learning experience.

David Boroff is an editor at ESPN.com.

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