Maria Sharapova unfazed by 'senior figure' status

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The Independent Online

Maria Sharapova has shrugged off her tag as the old woman of the Wimbledon semi-finals as she looks to make it back into the grand slam champions' club.

The 24-year-old won the last of her three slam titles at the Australian Open in 2008 having lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 2004 at the age of only 17.

Were Sharapova to repeat that this year aged 24, and she is the clear favourite to do so, she would be the youngest winner since that momentous victory over Serena Williams seven years ago, but the best of the new generation are snapping at her heels.

In the last four tomorrow, the Russian will face 21-year-old Sabine Lisicki, while the other clash pits Victoria Azarenka against Petra Kvitova - both of whom are also 21.

Having been the youngest semi-finalist at the French Open, where the final was between Francesca Schiavone, then 30, and 29-year-old Li Na, Sharapova now finds herself as the senior figure - not that she sees it that way.

She said: "I think a few years don't really make that much of a difference. I had my success really 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.

"But I don't regret for a second that I had a lot of success when I was young, because I feel like I got to learn so much more than players at my age."

And Sharapova is certainly not surprised to see any of her fellow semi-finalists at this stage of a grand slam.

She said: "In one sense, they're coming up, because they're reaching the bigger stages of the grand slams and they're trying to win their first one as well.

"But I also feel it's not the first time I'm seeing them in the draw or seeing them at the tournament. It's not like they're 15 or 16 years old."

Lisicki is the player who has made the most headlines with her run through the draw. The German was a quarter-finalist two years ago and on the verge of the top 20 before an ankle injury ruled her out for five months.

She dropped outside the top 200 earlier this year as she forged her way back but won the grass-court tournament in Birmingham and was awarded a wild card into Wimbledon.

Lisicki, whose scalps have included French Open champion Li and Serena Williams' conqueror Marion Bartoli yesterday, is renowned for her serve, which regularly clocks more than 120mph, and Sharapova knows she is a threat.

The fifth seed said: "A player that's playing with so much confidence and really great grass-court tennis is always very dangerous.

"She hits very hard. She has probably one of the hardest serves on the tour, and that's very beneficial. She's used that very well on the grass. So that will be challenging."

For Lisicki, tomorrow's match is something that must have seemed an awfully long way away this time last year when she was on crutches and preparing to learn to walk again.

She said: "I have absolutely nothing to lose. I mean, I'm here as a wild card. I'm here in the semis. I'm going to go out there and fight and give it all I have.

"It's just so great, and I'm so thankful to be out there on the court again that I'm enjoying every minute of it."

The United States-based German knows she has her work cut out against a player who is yet to drop a set and lost only two games in her quarter-final win over Dominika Cibulkova yesterday.

Lisicki added: "She's a great champion. She has won grand slams. She's a really good player. She has been playing well recently and she's been at this stage of the tournament before."