Sharapova takes crown

Posted: Tuesday, November 16, 2004


  Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Serena Williams, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, after the final game of the WTA Tour Championships at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Monday, Nov. 15, 2004. AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Serena Williams, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, after the final game of the WTA Tour Championships at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Monday, Nov. 15, 2004.

AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian

LOS ANGELES Serena Williams' injury-induced weakened serves drove Maria Sharapova to distraction. Two games from ending the season in defeat, the Russian teenager focused on holding her own serve.

Sharapova overcame the early third-set mental lapse and beat Williams for the WTA Championships title 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 Monday night in a rematch of their Wimbledon final.

The 17-year-old Russian will rise to a career-high fourth when the year-end WTA rankings are released Tuesday.

''I don't think I could've asked for anything better this year,'' Sharapova said. ''It's been an extraordinary year for me. I know that I'm not showing a lot of emotion, but I'm sort of just speechless.''

Sharapova stunned Williams for the Wimbledon title in July, propelling the blond teenager to international stardom. She finished the year with five titles.

Williams trailed 5-2 in the second set when she called for a trainer after straining her abdominal muscle. The injury greatly affected Williams' serve usually a 120-mph weapon but reduced to the 65-mph puff of a weekend hacker.

''After she got the medical treatment, I could tell that she had problems serving, but on the groundstrokes she was just teeing off on everything,'' Sharapova said. ''Beside her serve, she didn't look injured once she was playing, so she was actually being really tough. I couldn't capitalize on the weak serves that she hit.''

Williams left the court for five minutes and returned to have her serve broken in losing the set 6-2.

She rolled to a 4-0 lead in the third, including winning the first 11 points of the set and twice breaking a flustered Sharapova.

''She figured that she can't really do anything from her serve so she had to hit everything as hard as she could and that's exactly what she did,'' Sharapova said. ''There was just not too much I could do. I just tried to find a little opening and get back in there.''

After the third game, the trainer reappeared to wind a large wrap around Williams' stomach. She slipped an ice bag under her shirt on later changeovers.

''It's definitely a muscle strain,'' said Williams, who felt a cramp in her stomach in the first game of the match. ''I don't know how I stayed out there. I definitely thought about not finishing the match, but I like to fight, I guess.''

Williams described the pain as being 10 1/2 on a 10-point scale.

Federer beats Gaudio in Masters Cup opener, Hewitt-Moya match suspended

HOUSTON Roger Federer still looks unbeatable on the court.

Showing no signs of a torn thigh muscle that sidelined him for three weeks, Federer returned to action Monday with a 6-1, 7-6 (4) victory over Gaston Gaudio of Argentina in the first round of the ATP Masters Cup championships.

Two-time Masters Cup winner Lleyton Hewitt of Australia was leading Carlos Moya of Spain 5-4 in the first set and 30-0 in the 10th game when the match was suspended because of rain. The players will pick up Tuesday where they left off.

The start was delayed more than 3 1/2 hours.

Federer no longer wears his hair in a pony tail. He cut it two months ago in Toronto, and more recently it's been shorn even shorter.

''Who knows, in a couple of weeks it might be even shorter,'' Federer said. ''I'm taking it step by step, just like my tennis.''

Federer played in a tournament for the first time since he beat Andy Roddick at Bangkok early last month for his 10th title of the season. On Oct. 25, Federer tore his left thigh muscle.

The Swiss star sped through a rain-delayed first set, breaking Gaudio in the fourth game on the fourth break point. Gaudio didn't win another point in the first set. The match was interrupted by rain for two hours.

Although Gaudio rallied in the second set, Federer moved well, chasing down dropshots and retreating to run down overheads.

''I am quite relieved to play my first match, to have won it,'' Federer said. ''Coming back from playing no tournaments, no play, to win the first match, you know, I'm just happy it's over, won or lost. Now I can actually build from this and I'm in a good situation.''

Gaudio, who staged a comeback to win the French Open, fought back in the second set to force a tiebreaker. Gaudio was down three break points in the ninth game before managing to hold serve.

Gaudio held again in the 11th game after overcoming three more break points. Federer served the final two points of the tiebreaker, taking it to match point with a strong volley winner and closing the match with a forehand winner.

''I didn't play good today in the first set but I think I still have more good tennis to play,'' Gaudio said. ''I hope the next time I play Roger will be better for me. Today he played better than me in the first set.''

Federer's No. 1 ranking for 2004 was assured Sept. 13 when he defeated Hewitt in the U.S. Open final for his third major of the year.

Federer has been almost unstoppable since he beat Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-0, 6-4 in last year's Masters Cup final. Since that tournament, Federer has a 19-0 record against top 10 opponents.

''I'm much more relaxed coming into this year's tournament because last year I didn't feel great at all coming in here,'' Federer said. ''This year, my No. 1 ranking is locked up already. I have had already a fantastic season. No matter what happens here, I am going to walk away happy.''

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