Sharapova has power and movement to eclipse Pierce

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The Independent Online

Maria Sharapova is in uncharted waters here, having reached the third round at Flushing Meadows for the first time. But I'm confident she can sink Mary Pierce this weekend and sail on into the second week of play.

There are two reasons why I believe this will happen: movement and power. The 17-year-old Florida-based Russian, in only her second US Open, can and should dominate the 29-year-old Florida-based Frenchwoman, playing her 12th Open, in both these areas.

Forget big-match experience, forget the advantages of age and physical maturity, forget the locker of Grand Slam appearances Pierce has under her belt. I believe Maria will move Mary from side to side, hauling her ass all over the court, dictating play. The respective physical conditions of the players will allow Maria to do this and mean Mary is at a disadvantage throughout.

Mary's usual recourse would be to power, but Maria also has the upper hand in this area. When her game is functioning, her shots are simply more devastating than Mary's.

I thought it was interesting and instructive to see how Maria progressed through her second-round match against Jelena Jankovic, who like Maria (and Mary before her), has been a long-term student at my academy. Maria started extremely well, totally dominating the first set 6-0. The second set went to a tie-breaker, which included some amazing tennis and a fantastic winner from Maria after a 27-stroke rally.

Yet Jelena won the breaker, which posed the most significant question of the night for Maria: How is your mental toughness today?

The answer was a third-set scoreline of 6-1 and plenty of scorching winners among a bunch of unforced errors that at this stage are not that significant. The key was that Maria felt she was capable of making her shots when they mattered. It wasn't unusual for her to go three sets. It wasn't unusual for her to win in three. She will have the confidence to make the next round.

Talking of confidence, the defending champion, Justine Henin-Hardenne, should have enough to win her third-round match against Lisa Raymond, despite struggling a little in the last round in three sets against Tzipora Obziler. Raymond is basically a doubles player and I feel Henin is too mobile and too versatile to be dropping out yet.

Lindsay Davenport, my starting tip for the women's singles here, should be just too powerful for Elena Bovina in her third-round match but I'm predicting one hell of a contest, a close three-setter, because the Russian girl is playing some unbelievable tennis. I think Davenport will win thanks to the relative weakness of Bovina's second serve.

Whoever gets through that one will play either Venus Williams or Chanda Rubin in the fourth round. For my money, it'll be Venus. I don't think Chanda has a chance against Venus this weekend because she's not fully healthy.

Health will be the key to Tim Henman's progress or failure against Michal Tabara. If Tim's healthy, he wins, I think it's that straightforward. But the big question here is quite how healthy he is, given his problems with his back. The word is that Tim's still hurting, and if that doesn't change, Tabara can do him some damage.

The Czech is tough as hell, a counter-puncher, the kind of player who will inflict damage if Henman's physical condition means that he has to stay back more than he would want to.

Tim's strength is his versatility. His first volley, his killer shot, will be key. His fluidity and ability to execute it are vital. If he's fully fit, he wins.