Brian Viner at Wimbledon: Sharapova in hurry to show she'll be a big noise again

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The Independent Online

Apart from the fact that Foreman made a good deal less noise as he went about his business, and wasn't quite as pretty, and Sharapova is unlikely ever to endorse her own lean mean fat grilling machine, it was not a bad analogy. The most belligerent thing about Smashnova was her name. She is a clay-court specialist and simply had no answer to the power of the 2004 champion, whose A-game was never really required.

Not that Sharapova needs her A-game to make a racket. Indeed, denied much in the way of competitive tennis, the sun-dappled Court One crowd instead found entertainment in the 19-year-old's repertoire of squeals. When she failed to hold serve in the fifth game of the first set - the only time that things did not go her way - there was a discernible change of pitch.

But Sharapova promptly broke back and the standard squeal quickly returned. I have a feeling we ain't heard nothing yet.

As for Smashnova's speedy capitulation, the impression of a mismatch was compounded by the spectacular height difference between the two. One of the shortest women in the draw, the 29-year-old Israeli barely reached her opponent's bra strap. During the changeover - or perhaps in their case the changeova - they looked like Peter Crouch and Theo Walcott.

But they are more alike in their backgrounds, in that both left their native lands to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Sharapova's fortune, of course, is considerably greater. She has now amassed over $5.5m (£3m) in prize-money alone, to say nothing of the money rolling in from endorsements and modelling contracts.

She has also retained her Russian nationality, although it was noticeable during her post-match press conference that her demeanour changed as soon as she started answering questions in Russian. Suddenly the giggly American teenager became as solemn and morose as Dostoyevsky with a toothache.

By contrast, Smashnova, who left Minsk, Belarus, when she was 14, has unequivocally embraced her adopted nationality. She did national service in the Israeli army, and dutifully turns out for all Federation Cup matches, although there is some ambivalence towards her, the reporterfor Ha'aretz told me, because she is an immigrant.

Also, she has made her home in Rome, which has not impressed some Israelis. It is what might, just to return to the England football team, be termed Owen Hargreaves syndrome. Moreover, she is not even her country's best female tennis player any more, with young Shahar Peer rising through the world rankings.

Poor Smashnova, eclipsed at home and eviscerated here. It would have been decidedly unkind to extend her discomfort to a third set, were the women to be asked to play five-set matches as some are saying they should to earn equal prize-money.

That precise point was put afterwards to Sharapova, who agreed that progression into the second round had been a relatively easy task. "But, you know, it's grass tennis," she said. "[In] other events, first-round matches are not that easy. It would be kind of stupid for me to say I don't want equal prize-money. You know, this is an amazing sport that we play in.

"There's so much interest in women's tennis today... I think the public enjoy the women's play just as much as the men. Just because the men play five sets, they're physically stronger, they've got stronger genes, I mean, what can we do?" Sharapova added.

But if women can run marathons at the Olympic Games, she was asked (by a man, of course), then why can't they play five sets of tennis?

She smiled, icily. "Why can't we?" she said. "I mean, I'll try, but I'll definitely need an ambulance by the court. It won't be pretty, I'll tell you that."

Sharapova's tennis never is pretty, exactly, but it can be seriously impressive. When she began to hit her stride in the second set, varying her shots intelligently and serving with speed and depth, she looked like the potential 2006 champion that Sue Barker, for one, has singled her out to be.

She is moving freely again after the ankle injury that kept her out for most of the clay-court season, and it is worth remembering that her unexpected defeat in the semi-final of the DFS Classic in Birmingham a couple of weeks ago was only the fourth time in her career that she had lost a match on grass. She will be tough - and noisy - to beat.

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