Sharapova takes U.S. Open upset in stride

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2004

NEW YORK Maria Sharapova and her father often trade glances between points. In the stands, Dad pounds his fist on his chest, and she mimics the signal.

It represents a simple message ''Play with heart!'' but the Wimbledon champion didn't use the gesture during a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 upset loss to Mary Pierce in the U.S. Open's third round Saturday.

Instead, right over her heart and just below her sponsor's logo, Sharapova's silver dress carried a plain black ribbon. She wore it in memory of the more than 340 people, nearly half children, killed in a hostage-taking at a school in her native Russia.

''I lost today, but I still have to move on. It's not the end of the world,'' said Sharapova, who double-faulted 14 times and dropped the final five games. ''There are a lot more important things in the world going on right now.''

Given her almost perfect English, her all-grown-up strokes, and her poise on and off the court, it's easy to forget that Sharapova is just 17 and was born in Siberia.

If she hadn't flashed the tennis ability that prompted a move to Florida a decade ago, Sharapova might very well be just another teen readjusting to high school life this week, half a world away.

''The first of September is when so many kids go to school, the first day back. They go in with flowers and the whole family,'' she said. ''Unfortunately, the terrorists decided to do something bad with those families and kids. It just shows that my loss is a little thing.''

As far as tennis goes, though, her exit was the day's most significant development, more surprising than No. 3 Carlos Moya's 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-5 collapse against 100th-ranked Oliver Rochus of Belgium, at 5-foot-5 the shortest ATP Tour regular.

Otherwise, the top players advanced in straight sets.

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