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Updated: July 2, 2004, 5:04 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- No. 1 seed Serena Williams takes on Maria Sharapova, seeded 13th, in a final that has the markings of a classic confrontation of the established champion vs. the rising star, even though Williams is only five years older.

Is 17-year-old Sharapova the next Martina Hingis or a flash in the pan like Anna Kournikova? Hingis and Kournikova made the 1997 semifinals here at the All England Club, but it was Hingis who won the match and, ultimately, the title. Hingis went on to win five Grand Slam singles titles before injuries forced her to retire.

Sharapova is the second-youngest finalist here in the Open Era, which extends back to 1968. A win at Wimbledon would earn her more money than she's made in her career to date.

There is only one measuring stick here. The two played in March in Williams' first tournament after an eight-month absence following knee surgery. Williams won 6-4, 6-3, but both players have improved dramatically since.

Williams is trying to make some history by winning her third Wimbledon title in a row. She seems at the top of her game, though she was tested mightily in the semifinals by France's Amelie Mauresmo. Williams trailed by a set and was down a break at 1-3 in the second, and rallied to win.

Oddly enough, Sharapova was in the same situation against Lindsay Davenport in her semifinal and also pulled it out. Sharapova, who reached the quarterfinals at the French Open, is playing with confidence and without nerves.

Believe it or not, Sharapova will come out of the Wimbledon tournament ranked ahead of Williams. Because of her long absence, Williams is projected to be No. 12, while Sharapova is likely to be No. 8 when the ranking are released on Monday.

How will it play out?

Both players hit the ball hard, both are capable of volleying when the need arises. Williams' serve is bigger and more consistent. Both players have displayed fighting spirit. Sharapova has a tendency to start slowly and if she stops to smell the grass on Centre Court, she could be out of the match.

Williams said after her uplifting win over Mauresmo that it was the most "special moment" of her career. Later, she backpedaled, saying that a victory in the final -- because of her long comeback and her desire to win three straight and establish a legacy -- would constitute that "special" moment.

Greg Garber is a senior writer at ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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