Sharapova the supernova

Sweet seventeen as Centre Court salutes dazzling new star

From Siberian princess to Queen of Wimbledon. Maria Sharapova yesterday ascended to the throne at only 17 years old by striding sure-footed past Serena Williams.

With her 6-1 6-4 victory, Sharapova became the first Russian to win a title on the lawns of the All England club. Even though it was her first Grand Slam final and she was facing a woman who counts two Wimbledon crowns among her six Grand Slam titles, her success was rarely in doubt from the moment she broke Williams' serve in the fourth game of the match to lead 3-1. When she dropped her serve in the second set, she broke straight back, broke Williams again and strode on to take the title.

But she had feared she might not be able to play. "Last night I got a terrible sore throat," she said. "And I thought I was going to get sick. I mean a Wimbledon final, I was absolutely in tears because I didn't think anything like this could happen. I didn't think I'd be ready to play a Wimbledon final and win. It's amazing."

She could hardly believe she had achieved her dream. "When I came off court and saw my name on the board of champions that's when I realised I'd won. I was looking at the trophy. I mean it's in my hands, actually in my hands."

Nerveless on court, Sharapova hides her ready smile during matches, but in her moment of triumph she was all girlish charm, sinking to her knees and covering her face with her hands as if unable to believe what she had achieved. She then followed a well-worn path up through the crowd ­ first cut by Pat Cash on winning the men's title in 1987 ­ to hug her father, Yuri, and fail to raise her mother, Yelena, on his mobile phone.

The girl from Nyagan, with her coltish long legs and long blonde hair, had captured the hearts of the Wimbledon crowd over the past two weeks. On accepting the winner's trophy ­ the Venus Rosewater dish ­ from the Duke of Kent, she milked their applause and appreciation, saying: "I want to cut up this trophy and give it to everybody."

But this was the time to thank those who have helped her, principally her parents. "I owe my mum and dad so much. Me and my dad have been through this together all through my career. Playing is a lot easier, believe me," she said.

Sharapova's journey through the tennis world started in Moscow when she played in an exhibition event that featured Martina Navratilova (who, at 47, bid a final farewell to Wimbledon yesterday). Her father then took her to the United States at the age of seven with the little money he and his wife had managed to save. There she took up a place at Nick Bollettieri's famous academy in Florida, working initially without the comfort of her mother, who was trapped in Russia by lack of money and problems obtaining an American visa. Yesterday Sharapova gained the first of what should be many major returns on that sacrifice.

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