tampabay.com

Second major feels oh so pretty

Maria Sharapova finally gets another Slam title with her U.S. Open win over Justine Henin-Hardenne.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 10, 2006


NEW YORK - Maria Sharapova began the U.S. Open with as much buzz about her sponsorships as her strokes, as much talk about her getups as her game.

She has long insisted she's more about substance than style, though, and now she owns a second Grand Slam title to prove it.

Better on the biggest points all night, the third-seeded Sharapova beat No. 2 Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-4, 6-4 in the U.S. Open final Saturday night to add a follow-up championship to her breakthrough title at Wimbledon in 2004.

"I experienced it two years ago, and I knew that I wasn't done," Sharapova said. "I had a lot more in me."

What Sharapova had on this night was a lot more force on nearly every shot, from groundstrokes to serves to returns. She faced only one break point all match, broke Henin-Hardenne three times, and compiled a 20-15 edge in winners.

"She's been a real fighter tonight," said Henin-Hardenne, who would have moved up to No. 1 with a victory. "The better player won tonight."

Quite a concession from the Belgian, who leads the tour this season in matches won (54), Grand Slam matches won (25) and tournament titles (five). She was the first woman since Martina Hingis in 1997 to reach a year's four major finals.

"She didn't give me a lot of opportunities," Henin-Hardenne said.

The only time Sharapova lost her composure came after Henin-Hardenne put a forehand into the net to end the match.

First, Sharapova dropped to her knees and covered her face. Then she hopped up and down, giggling - like the teenager she is. Then she tried to climb through the stands to hug her father, Yuri, and hitting partner, Mike Joyce, but got lost, and needed guidance from an usher. When she hoisted the trophy overhead, its lid fell off.

And then came her at-times petulant postmatch news conference, which Sharapova began by saying, "Let's make this a positive session tonight, please. Por favor." She got into a bit of a testy exchange with reporters who asked about the apparent signals sent by Yuri and Joyce about when to eat bananas or sip drinks at changeovers (coaching isn't allowed).

All of which led to a sentence that it's fair to say had never been uttered by a Grand Slam champion. Or anyone else, for that matter.

"I believe, at the end of the day, personally, my life is not about a banana," Sharapova said.

"It's not about what I wear. It's not about the friends that I have. My career right now is about winning a tennis match. And right now, I'm sitting here as a U.S. Open champion, and the last thing I think people need to worry about is a banana."

"I think she felt a little pressure. People were talking like she didn't have her Slam," Joyce said. "It was just a matter of time. I think she had to prove to herself that she could do it."

She proved it to everyone under the lights at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Two games into the final, a man's voice came from the sellout crowd of 23,712, screaming the tag line from Sharapova's oft-played current TV ad: "I feel pretty!" In the commercial, that tune is sung by various people as Sharapova walks out onto court. The punch line: Sharapova swings her racket and lets out one of her trademark shrieks.

During her comments to the crowd, Sharapova thanked Billie Jean King for her work for women in tennis, including for equal prize money. Sharapova earned $1.7-million with her victory, although she makes far more from endorsement deals than prize money.

"You can't buy a Grand Slam title, you know?" Sharapova said. "You can't buy it."

She's still only 19 and has two.