29
Jun
11

Maria Sharapova is the oldest female left still competing for the women’s crown at Wimbledon.

Hard to think of glamorous Maria Sharapova as an old lady. “I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not,” laughed the 24-year-old star on Tuesday when asked about being the “old lady” left in the draw. “I had my success early in my career, and I don’t regret it for one second. “I think maybe if I achieved big things when I was a little bit older, not 17, maybe I wouldn’t be seen as more of a veteran. I’d still be considered young. It is the way it is, right? Can’t do anything about it.” It is hard to believe that Sharapova’s spectacular coming out party was, indeed, way back in 2004, when she won Wimbledon as a shrieking, long-legged Cinderella and used her cell phone on court to call her mommy back in Russia. It seemed it was just the beginning of a Hall of Fame career.

Seven years later, she’s back in the semifinals at the All-England Club for the first time in five years hoping to get back to the final for the first time since she won it. There has been more success, one other Grand Slam victory in Australia, and of course riches beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, with her tennis earnings and endorsements easily making her the highest paid female athlete ever. Many other players have enjoyed greater on-court success, and even now. Sharapova is just No. 6 in the world. But she is more experienced and accomplished than the rest of the remaining field and perhaps now ready again to grab the Wimbledon throne. Her father, Yuri, is no longer her coach, replaced by Swedish national Thomas Hogstedt. In her box for many matches, including this Wimbledon, is her fiance Sasha Vujacic, a star with the NBA New Jersey Nets, who she says shares an “understanding” of the life, habits and needs of professional athletes. To many, Sharapova has been a disappointment, an underachiever. We have yet to find if she has more tennis glory ahead of her. “It’s the road that you sometimes have to take,” she said philosophically after her easy 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal win over Dominika Cibulkova on Tuesday. “It’s not always straight. There are a lot of zig zags.”

None of the other women left in the Wimbledon singles draw have a Grand Slam to their name or are older than 21. Sharapova’s opponent on Thursday in the semifinals, 21-year-old Sabine Lisicki of Germany, has only ever won two tournaments, neither one of them a biggie. That said, Lisicki has become the darling of this tournament somewhat like Sharapova was in ‘04, a wild card entry ranked as high as No. 22 in the world back in 2009 before a serious ankle injury knocked her out of action for five months. Now, she’s the first German woman to make the Wimbledon semis since Steffi Graf in ‘99, has one of the biggest serves on tour and showed a dizzying array of drop shots and angles in dismantling Marion Bartoli of France on Tuesday. The drop shots in particular, maybe two dozen in all, seemed like body punches to a boxer, and by the end Bartoli had no legs. “I was so exhausted I could barely walk from one side to the other,” said the Frenchwoman wearily afterwards. So Lisicki most definitely has the weapons to beat Sharapova, and the ability to carry out a game plan. The mental strength? Well, the German had enough of that to beat Chinese star Li Na, and to persevere after blowing three match points to Bartoli in the second set.  “I don’t have the power to change the weather,” smiled Bartoli. “Not yet.”

Neither does Sharapova have the power to turn back time. Perhaps she has no inclination to do so.

By Damien Cox

Sports Columnist

 

 

 

 

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