Steely self-belief shapes Sharapova's philosophy

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The Independent Online

Maria Sharapova was born in Siberia and moulded in America with nerves of tungsten and supreme self-belief.

"I know what it takes to be a champion," she said after beating Jelena Dokic on Saturday to become one of five Russians in the fourth round, a record in Grand Slam history. "I knew that one day it would come," she added, of reaching the second week. "I knew one day all that hard work would pay off. It's just reality."

So it is worth a reminder that she only turned 16 on 19 April and that when she was asked recently what she does to take her mind off tennis, she replied: "I do my homework." Her other non-tennis activities include yoga and aromatherapy. They help her tie opponents in knots and come up smelling of roses.

Sharapova is also big on books. She likes Harry Potter (she would be in the same year as him at Hogwarts). She likes Pippi Longstocking. And she devours Sherlock Holmes. "The mysteries are great," she said. "Very clever. But sometimes I have to really wonder how he got from one point to another."

The next big thing in the women's game gets from one point to another like this: "I come to a tournament expecting to win. That's my philosophy. I can't go to a tournament thinking, 'Yeah, I'm gonna get my ass kicked today'. I might as well leave.

"When I stepped on court [against Dokic] I was like, I'm not going to give her a chance today. That's it. I want to be a winner today on this court, right here, this moment."

And she was, in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.

Sharapova says the rise in the number of Russian contenders is down to the fact that "they're really strong and really tough. They work that extra hour at the end of the day. They know if someone has a talent, they can achieve things by working hard and that's what they do."

As for the notion that Sharapova is as much American as Russian, her outlook is unequivocal. As she has studied from childhood at the Bollettieri Academy in Florida, which she still uses regularly under the guidance of her personal coach, Robert Lansdorp, some people assume that she must feel like an American. But no. "I'm Russian," she said on Saturday. "My blood is totally Russian."

A few people were surprised at this revelation. They thought she had ice in her veins.

Sharapova's compatriot, Svetlana Kuznetsova, stands in the way of a place in the quarter-finals. Two other Russians also remain in the top half of the draw, with Elena Dementieva facing Serena Williams and Anastasia Myskina facing Jennifer Capriati. The fifth Russian still in contention, Vera Zvonareva, plays the former double champion, Venus Williams.

Zvonareva shocked Williams by beating her in their fourth-round match at Roland Garros recently, but the elder Williams sister insists she can exact revenge.

"I'm definitely better prepared," she said. "It was very hard for me at the French Open and it was a real fight against myself. But I didn't really consider what she'd done because I made 70 unforced errors. That was definitely the death of me and I don't think I'll do it here."

Serena Williams' opponent, the No15 seed Dementieva, is in the fourth round for the second consecutive year. The defending champion admitted she would have to be on top of her game to progress.

"I've never played her, but I definitely know her game and I will be ready," Serena said. "She has a great return and I*'m going to have to make sure I can serve well."

In the only match in the top half of the draw with no Russian interest, Mary Pierce, one step away from equalling her best Wimbledon placing of a quarter-final seven years ago, faces Justine Henin-Hardenne.

"I'm not in the physical shape I've been in throughout my career and that is the biggest [problem]," said the Frenchwoman, looking ahead her match with the new French Open champion. "But I've accepted the fact that that will take time. I've accepted that I've got to be patient and put the hard work in, because I know what I want and I believe in myself."

Henin-Hardenne made light of her left-hand injury again with a straight-sets win over Australia's Alicia Molik to reach the last 16.

"I don't think too much about it and I'll just try to be focused on my next round match," Henin-Hardenne explained. "I'm getting used to playing with the tape and I'm getting more comfortable, so I think it's not going to be a big problem."

Henin-Hardenne's compatriot, Kim Clijsters, the No 2 seed, faces Japan's Ai Sugiyama, the No 13 seed. Sugiyama's compatriot, Shinobu Asagoe, also faces a big hitter in Lindsay Davenport.

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