Jason Burt: Girl who came in from the cold after Friday night fever

Unreal, amazing. The young conqueror just cannot believe it

Few competitors apologise when they are clutching the biggest prize their sport offers. But few competitors are like Maria Sharapova. Maybe, finally, she was showing that she is indeed, unbelievably, just 17. There were the giggles too, the admission that she had left the court before the match started because she was bursting to go to the loo - and that she had been in tears the night before the match because she was suffering from a sore throat. "This was the day before a Wimbledon final," she said.

There was also a gauche reference to an unnamed person who inspired her to win. She refused to divulge a name. A thousand tabloid reporters were doubtless last night dispatched to provide it. Sharapova is, after all, the hottest thing in sport. She wants certain things to remain private. That will be hard.

But despite her excitement she remained the same collected Maria. A thread of steel runs through her. Her biggest quality? Her toughness, she volunteered. It softened a little in the warmth of victory in which she was in "my own little world. But I don't know what that world was really". She wanted to share it with those closest to her. Her father, Yuri, in the crowd, her mother, Yetunde, in Florida, whom she struggled to contact by phone, first on court, then off, her coaches and so on.

But first that apology. On court, she said: "Serena actually I have to take this away from you for one year, I'm sorry. I know there are going to be so many more moments when we're going to play. I'm sure we're going to be here another time and hopefully many more times in other Grand Slams, so thank you for giving me a tough match but I'm sorry I had to win today."

The exuberance of youth, of knowing that she has reached a place she had dreamed of. "It is amazing really," she said. "I'm absolutely speechless. Never, never in my life did I expect this to happen to me so fast. And it's always been my dream to come here and to win. But it was never in my mind that I would do it this year.

"When I came off the court and I saw my name on that board already with all the champions, that was when I realised that I had just won. And I was trying to look at the trophy and I was trying to see it's in my hands. I don't understand, but it's actually in my hands. When I came off court and saw the board with my name on it, 2004 Wimbledon Champion, that was just for me."

Sharapova had also fled from court before the match. "I had to go to the bathroom," she admitted. "They were kind of rushing me to go on court. I was like, 'OK, I need to go to the bathroom'. But then they already put the flowers in my hands. I was like, 'Listen guys, I have to go to the bathroom. I really got to go'."

It was good knockabout stuff. There was disbelief that she will attend the champions' ball tonight, talk of her modelling contracts, her talkshow appearances, her move to America, away from her mother, her father waiting on tables, and living in a dormitory when she was just 10.

She admitted she had no tactics to beat Williams. "I don't what happened," she said. "It's unreal. My father and I have been through this together and it's just amazing. I know how tough it is to watch and playing is a lot easier so I owe him so much." Sharapova thanked her coaches, Nick Bollettieri and Robert Landsdorp: "They have been a big part of my life. I want to cut this trophy up."

It was all, however, laced with her determination. "Wimbledon is my favourite," she said. "But I'd also like to win all the other Grand Slams." Even in the minutes after her triumph she said it was now her aim to be "Number one in the world".

Sharapova is determined not to change. "I've just told those who know me to hit me over the head if I do," she said. "I'm just a very tough person when I go on court, and I really don't want to lose. But I'm that kind of person that I just love to win and want to fight."

Another one of those characters, of course, is Serena Williams. The defeated champion was asked about Sharapova's apology for taking away her title. "You get so excited," she said. "You'll say stuff like that. Honestly, she's not sorry because she wants to win. I wouldn't be sorry."

Williams, who won her first Grand Slam, the US Open, when she was also just 17, said: "I was really happy for her because I know that feeling and that moment." Williams said she felt she had put too much "stress on myself" going into the match. "Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself," she added. "I like to win - maybe too much. It's definitely not easy [to lose]."

Williams claimed there were similarities between herself, her sister Venus, and Sharapova who, she said, had probably played "the best tennis of her life".

"I should have done the same thing in the final of Wimbledon," Williams added ruefully.

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