Sesil dumped on backside by merciless Sharapova
Friday 24 June 2005
Maria Sharapova has attracted $20m (£11m) in endorsements this year, making her the highest paid sportswoman on the planet. Motorola alone has contributed £3.3m to the swelling coffers, while other earning vehicles include dress design and a Sharapova perfume. These are the Faustian rewards for losing her youth.
Opponents must hope the off-court diversions will deflect the Wimbledon champion from her core product, much as has happened to another alluring young Russian. Anna Kournikova has proved that the aroma of commercial interests can be a fatal fume to a tennis career.
For those who would usher Sharapova down a similarly prosperous if sportingly destructive path, there was sobering evidence yesterday. The only smell on Court One, where Sesil Karatancheva formed the opposition, was of blood and it was particularly rich in the nostrils of Sharapova.
When this pair first met, at Indian Wells last year, Karatancheva, Special K to her friends, said she would "kick her ass off". And an ass did get kicked yesterday, the one the Bulgarian was using at the change-arounds. She was ruthlessly dispatched, 6-0, 6-1.
The teenagers are both products of the Nick Bollettieri tennis academy in Florida - a West Point without the homely touches.
No lesson there, however, can have taught Karatancheva as much as yesterday's.
The combatants emerged from different locker-rooms (Sharapova was in the members) and, it transpired, different planets. There was no repetition of the smiling features we had witnessed from Sharapova when she first stepped out onto the lawns on Tuesday. This time it was business.
The Russian is so tall, so slim, it appears she has been stretched on the dungeon rack. Sharapova had several inches on her chunkier opponent yesterday. She was taller, lighter, better.
The world No 2 again sported her trainers specked with 18-carat gold and, at this rate, may soon be wearing diamonds on the soles of her shoes.
If there is anything of the traditional 18-year-old about Sharapova it is her weakness for footwear and, as she showed when trying to contact her mother immediately after last year's final defeat of Serena Williams, inappropriate use of a mobile phone. Nothing else seems to fit. Sharapova also sported a summer dress with a pleated skirt at the bottom. A slaughterman's apron might have been more appropriate.
She wore a visor, as did Karatancheva, a Wimbledon debutante yet a player who had reached the quarter-finals of the French Open last month, beating Venus Williams along the way. This 15-year-old wannabe learnt English from listening to the Spice Girls. Yesterday, she was the baby. Over the net was sporty and scary.
Sharapova won the toss and served, committing a backhand error on the first point. She aced on the second, a moment which could later be identified as the turning point.
There were actually 14 points in that first game, which lasted seven minutes and was a disastrous indicator of what was to come. Karatancheva adopted a kill or be killed approach, which developed into suicide.
The ploy, if we can call it that, was to attempt to end each rally at the earliest opportunity. Occasionally this delivered a thrilling outcome, but, in general, it led to the unholy trinity of shots long, shots wide and shots into the net. At 0-5 Karatancheva started charging the net, but this was not strategy. It was desperation. All the time, glorious stuff kept coming back from the Sphinx opposite.
The Bulgarian lost 14 consecutive points over the bridge into the second set and, when the sequence was broken, at 0-3, the crowd burst into sustained applause. Nice one Sesil. Karatancheva won that game to avoid the double bagel with the only four points she won all set. That elicited a sympathetic response from the audience, if not the adversary. "It's hard to feel sorry for opponents," Sharapova said. "Unfortunately, this is an individual sport."
Even at the end, on three match points, Sharapova was still in her competitive cocoon, clenching her fist and slapping a thigh.
"Mentally, from the first point on, and even though I was down 15-40 in the first game, I was still mentally tough," she said. "I just played great tennis today. If you're able to block everything out that's around you and just able to focus on the ball and your opponent then you're in good hands.
"If you're thinking about what someone yelled in the crowd, the line call, the media or the photographers then you're in trouble."
Trouble. It was a word Sharapova contemplated only before her game started. "I knew it wasn't going to be an easy match," she said, a rare mistake on a near flawless, if truncated, afternoon. After 46 minutes it had been time for cheerios for Special K.
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