Sharapova to wear 24-karat gold speckled shoes

Updated: June 19, 2005, 5:57 PM ET news services

WIMBLEDON, England -- Defending Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova is taking steps to ensure a glittering performance at this year's tournament.

The young Russian said Sunday she'll wear shoes with 24-karat gold specks on the sides.

Roger Federer shoe
Maria Sharapova and Roger Federer will wear shoes at Wimbledon that carry a strip of 24-karat gold. Each pair is worth $500.

"It shines unbelievably," Sharapova said. "Hopefully it can distract my opponents a little bit."

Sharapova said she has 10 pairs of the gold-speckled shoes, which Nike said are worth $500 a pair. She can well afford the extravagance, because she's expected to pull in more than $20 million this year from endorsements, prize money and other sources.

That's one benefit of winning Wimbledon last year when she was just 17. One drawback: Expectations are much higher this time around, with Sharapova seeded second this year behind Lindsay Davenport.

"It's going to be a lot harder to defend than winning for the first time," Sharapova said. "Last year I was 17 years old, and who expected me to win? Obviously there are going to be more expectations, and that's absolutely normal for a player that's No. 2 in the world. ...

"I'm just going to go out there and enjoy it and do the best I can to win, and just play my game. That's exactly the same thing I did last year."

Seeded 13th in 2004, the Siberian became the third-youngest singles champion -- male or female -- in the tournament's 118-year history. That made her an instant international celebrity acclaimed as "Supernova Sharapova."

A reminder that she's now the center of attention greets her every time she passes through Wimbledon Village, where a two-story billboard bears her close-up image.

"I didn't know anything about it until I saw it," she said with a laugh. "I got halfway down the street and I was like, 'Whoa.' I was like telling my dad, 'Do you see that?'

"He's like, 'What? What? I don't see anything.'

"I'm like, 'Hello, how can you not see anything?"'

Sharapova earned her third tournament title of the year last week on Birmingham's grass courts. She plays No. 36-ranked Nuria Llagostera Vives in her opening match Tuesday.

It's not all glitter
A man believed to be stalking defending Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova has been banned from the grounds of the All England Club.

Matthew Anthony Page won't be allowed to enter the club, Wimbledon spokesman Johnny Perkins said Sunday.

Sharapova said she didn't know anything about the matter. She said she felt safe because she's accompanied by five bodyguards.

"I feel secure. I'm always surrounded by people," Sharapova said. "If I was worried every step I was taking, I don't think I would be walking around."

Lindsay's back
To Lindsay Davenport's surprise, her loss against Maria Sharapova in last year's semifinals wasn't her last match at Wimbledon.

Davenport had planned to retire at the end of 2004. Instead she's back this year, ranked No. 1 and a contender for her fourth Grand Slam title -- and her first since 2000.

"I would have never guessed 12 months ago that I would be in the position I'm in today," the 1999 Wimbledon champion said. "I've started to enjoy my success a little more, and started to feel for the first time in a few years that I had a legitimate chance of winning Grand Slams. You can't walk away when you have that mind-set."

A year ago, Davenport was frustrated by a series of injuries. But she enjoyed a subsequent resurgence last summer, finished the year ranked No. 1 and decided to delay retirement.

She has won two tournaments in 2005. When asked if this is likely her last Wimbledon, Davenport laughed.

"I just turned 29 two weeks ago," she said. "My husband made a joke -- 'Let's see, you'll be 35 and still playing, and we'll have no kids.'

"I have no idea what's going to happen. If I'm back next year, then I'm still playing well and healthy. I would like nothing more than for that to happen. I didn't think that would be possible 12 months ago."

Bet on it
Odds are that Roger Federer will win Wimbledon.

The two-time defending champion is the 4-7 favorite, according to British bookmaker William Hill. Andy Roddick, who lost to Federer in last year's final, is the second choice at 9-2, followed by 2002 winner Lleyton Hewitt at 12-1.

Bookmakers are falling out of love with local favorite Tim Henman. William Hill quoted odds of 14-1 for four-time semifinalist Henman to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936. Odds are the same for Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal, who won the French Open two weeks ago.

On the women's side, Justine Henin-Hardenne and defending champion Maria Sharapova are co-favorites at 3-1. Two-time champion Serena Williams is at 7-2, with Kim Clijsters at 11-2, top-seeded Lindsay Davenport at 11-1 and two-time winner Venus Williams at 12-1.

The chances of a British woman winning Wimbledon for the first time since Virginia Wade in 1977 are 1,000-1. Odds are the same that aliens will land on the White House lawn, William Hill said.

Counterfeit tickets
Wimbledon officials found counterfeit tickets for sale on eBay, and they've been taken off the market.

The tickets were for the players' area, meaning they wouldn't normally be for sale by the All England Club.

Wimbledon spokesman Johnny Perkins said the club is investigating. He said officials found out about the tickets because they monitor the Internet.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.