tampabay.com

Sharapova eyes quick comeback

By wire services
Published March 24, 2005


KEY BISCAYNE - On a humid, hazy spring morning, the start of the Nasdaq-100 Open was still an hour away Wednesday when Maria Sharapova settled into a chair, yawned and stretched her 6-foot frame.

"It's too early," she said with a laugh.

Sharapova had the day off because all seeded entrants received an opening-round bye in the 12-day event. The No. 2-seeded Russian will play her first match against Eleni Daniilidou, likely Friday, and she'll try to bounce back from the worst loss of her career.

Sharapova lost 6-0, 6-0 to Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals of the Pacific Life Open last week. It was an astounding drubbing for the reigning Wimbledon champion, who won just 23 points while committing 25 unforced errors.

"That's just part of our sport. You're not going to be at your best all the time," the 17-year-old Sharapova said. "I didn't really find a way to fight out there. Usually I find a way to get a rhythm in the match, and I wasn't able to do that.

"It was good for me to take a few days off and forget about it."

Daniilidou earned a shot at Sharapova by beating Tathiana Garbin 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. Vera Douchevina defeated Emilie Loit 6-3, 6-3 and will next face Serena Williams, who is seeking her fourth consecutive Key Biscayne title. American Marissa Irvin eliminated Magui Serna 6-3, 7-5.

In men's play, 2003 French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Brendan Evans 6-2, 6-4. American Robby Ginepri swept Filippo Volandri 7-6 (4), 6-1.

Fernando Verdasco defeated Peter Wessels 6-4, 7-5 and will next face defending champion Andy Roddick. Sharapova enters the tournament with a record of 17-2 this year. Her only other loss came in the semifinals of the Australian Open, when she failed to convert three match points against Williams.

"Whether I have three match points or it's 6-0, 6-0, it's a loss," Sharapova said. "I'm not going to win every single match in my career, but losses really motivate me."

She needs to reach the semifinals next week to have a chance at a rematch with Williams. They met for the first time a year ago at Key Biscayne, and Williams beat Sharapova 6-4, 6-3.

"That was a whole year ago," Sharapova said. "I learned a lot, and it definitely helped me."

Less than four months later, Sharapova upset Williams in the Wimbledon final. The Russian won again when they played in the final of the year-ending WTA Championships.

"It has been an amazing year," she said. "Everything has happened so fast. I have been getting letters from people I never thought knew who I was - like Stella McCartney. It's a bit of a surprise."

McCartney, a fashion designer and daughter of Paul McCartney, has sent clothes to Sharapova. There have been many other rewards and awards for her success, such as the WTA Tour Player of the Year honor Sharapova received at a banquet Tuesday.

Williams sisters have words for the younger set

Embracing their status as role models, Serena and Venus Williams have written a book with advice for pre-teens on such subjects as money and dating.

Regarding the latter, their recommendation: Don't rush a crush.

"We both really have a lot to say about that," Venus said Wednesday with a laugh.

Titled Venus and Serena: Serving From the Hip: 10 rules for Living, Loving and Winning, the book is targeted for pre-teens.

"It's a great book for teenage girls who deal with different issues," Serena said. "Growing up, I would have loved to have had such a positive role model to look up to and try to be like and try to emulate. We love having that opportunity to say, "Look, you can be like us, you can be successful and at the same time have high morals and high self esteem and be a very nice person at the end of the day.' "