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What a difference a decade makes for Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova speaks with the media
by Dan Imhoff
Saturday 21 June 2014

Ten years on from winning Wimbledon, and hot on the heels of victory at this year's French Open, Maria Sharapova has her eyes on a second Grand Slam on grass.

A giggling blonde pony-tailed teenager clambers into the stands to be showered with kisses from her father before desperately trying in vain to phone her mother with news of her first Grand Slam title. It’s the post-match celebration, which any number of tennis prodigies could have played out over the years.

But what set this one apart on July 3, 2004, was a grand statement of the juggernaut to come. Maria Sharapova’s striking looks, her all-out aggression and grit had her touted as a marketer’s dream. A Grand Slam title at 17 – where she had defeated former champion Lindsay Davenport in the semi-finals before dethroning two-time defending champion and top seed Serena Williams in the Wimbledon decider – only justified the hype. Her mother, that day, was on a flight to New York. The celebrations could wait. The years of sacrifice her parents had made from humble beginnings in Siberia had paid off.

The Russian has gone on to become the highest-earning female athlete on the planet. Forbes Magazine lists Sharapova’s income at £17 million in the year up to June 2013, with £13.5 million of that coming from off-court endorsements. 

Memories of Wimbledon 2004 and the confidence gathered from this year’s Roland Garros title run – the first time she had triumphed at the same major twice – are incentive enough to instil belief in Sharapova’s mindset that she can again triumph at SW19.

“I don't think about that victory very often, just sometimes when I need a little pick me up or when I look back at my achievements. When I do think about it, it seems so fresh and it seems like it almost happened yesterday.  It's been 10 years and I'm here, yeah, still competing at a high level and still have the motivation,” she said of the 2004 victory. “I certainly had that drive when I was 17 years old, and I'm proud that I still have that going into this age group; still going out and competing and loving what I do so much.”

The on-court spoils since have been what any player could ask for – winning each of the four Slams at least once and ascending to the top of the world rankings. But for the five Slams to her name, her Wimbledon record since that breakthrough a decade ago has never truly flourished. There’s also that matter of a lop-sided rivalry with Williams, having never beaten her again since 2004.

“I think when you win such a major at 17 years old, you have no choice but to try to back that up with another victory, or else you're going to be carrying those expectations from yourself and also from the outside world,” she said. “I think I was ultimately more proud as a teenager to back that up with a win in New York on one of the biggest stages against a lot of pressure against an opponent in a final stage that I had a lot of trouble with in my career. That was a big moment through those years. To add three more to that, yeah, I'm very grateful for that.”

While still waiting for that second Grand Slam triumph on the grass, Sharapova last month turned what typically was her weakest surface – the clay – into her most successful on the Grand Slam stage. There would be no lingering distractions from these celebrations, however.

“To be honest, it's such a quick turnaround, you get to celebrate for a day or so and you think about it.  But when you transition here, when I got off the train in London... you got to start from the beginning,” she said. “I don't like to come into this tournament thinking, I just won a Grand Slam. I like to challenge myself and be hungry. I don't want to think about what happened two weeks ago. I want to start from scratch.”

She will do so against unheralded British wildcard Samantha Murray first up and a quarter-final against Williams would be the ultimate test. Should she clear that hurdle, a return of that giggling, blonde pony-tailed champion clambering into the stands for a second time could well be on the cards.

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