Sharapova takes best scalp of career

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The Independent Online

Maria Sharapova continued to suppress her habitual noisiness but not the quality of her tennis as she claimed the most impressive scalp of her fledgling career to reach the semi-finals of the DFS Classic at the Edgbaston Priory club last night.

The 16-year-old Russian, with the long, slim legs of a gazelle and looks that have already seen her earmarked as a new Anna Kournikova, teetered on the brink against world No 15 Elena Dementieva but summoned an impressive strength of character to emerge from the crisis and then overpower the No 1 seed.

Given that she is currently ranked 110 places below her fellow Russian, Sharapova's 2-6, 7-6, 6-2 victory, achieved in just over two hours, is astonishing, but then this has been an extraordinary week for the six-footer from Siberia and her stance in the rankings is surely set for a rapid transformation.

She had beaten 11th seed Marie-Gainaneh Mikaelian, of Switzerland, and the No 5 seed Nathalie Dechy, the French world No 23 but this win, after only a dozen matches on the main tour, eclipsed those.

And yet it seemed the prize of a place in the last four was beyond her as Dementieva, a semi-finalist in last year's US Open, ran away with the first set in 27 minutes, her opponent appearing to be mentally still relaxing by the Edgbaston club's outdoor swimming pool, where she had been sunning herself while waiting for the previous match to finish.

That three-hour epic involving No 2 seed Eleni Daniilidou and Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn had delayed Sharapova's anticipated start time by an hour and a half and she confessed afterwards: "I really didn't think there was any way I could win the match.

"She was dictating all the points and I felt pretty hopeless. But I have always had a fighting spirit and it was that which carried me through. After I had come through the tie break I really had nothing to lose."

Dementieva broke in the second game of the second set and rushed into a 5-2 lead but the younger player's lack of fear contrasted with the tension that then began to undermine the 21-year-old. Dementieva failed to serve out at 5-3 and, having broken back to regain the edge at 6-5, again found completing the job beyond her.

The tie-break turned on a brilliant Sharapova lob at 3-3 and the teenager took control of the final set, after losing the opening two games.

"I am on fire inside after beating the world No 13 but I have to contain myself because I have won nothing yet," Sharapova said, adding that she has still to decide on whether to accept a Wimbledon wild card offer. "I want to get this tournament out of the way before I make up my mind," she said.

In today's semi-finals she meets another unseeded player, Shinobu Asagoe, of Japan, while Daniilidou, the No 2 seed, faces Bulgaria's Magdalena Maleeva, the No 3 seed.

Martina Navratilova, 46, is through to the women's doubles quarter-finals after she and Alicia Molik, of Australia, defeated Janet Lee (Taipei) and Wynne Prakusya (Indonesia).

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