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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Maria leads Russian challenge against Davenport at Pan Pacific Open

Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova will lead a Russian attempt to prevent a record fifth victory for world number one Lindsay Davenport at the Pan Pacific Open tennis tournament this week.

Maria Sharapova

Davenport, the American top seed and losing finalist at the Australian Open Saturday, is joint holder of the most Pan Pacific titles along with retired former world number one Martina Hingis of Switzerland on four. But second seed Sharapova will be returning to a happy hunting ground where she won her first WTA singles and doubles titles and successfully defended the singles at the Japan Open in October. The 17-year-old Russian starlet, a big favourite with Japanese supporters, also won her first professional title in the ITF Circuit series at Gunma north of Tokyo two years ago. In their only previous encounter, Sharapova defeated Davenport 2-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 in the Wimbledon semi-finals on the way to her first Grand Slam victory in July. Before meeting Sharapova, Davenport must survive the top half of the draw, which includes Russia's US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is third seed; Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova, eighth seed; and Jelena Jankovic of Serbia and Montenegro, the seventh seed. Davenport received a first-round bye with other top three seeds and faces a Japanese challenge from either Saori Obata or Miho Saeki in the second round. Sharapova was drawn in the bottom half with fourth seed Russian Elena Dementieva, who finished runner-up in the French and US opens last season, and sixth-seeded Russian Elena Likhovtseva, as well as fifth seed Ai Sugiyama of Japan.


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