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Friday, March 25, 2005

Maria Ready to Bounce Back From Loss

On a humid, hazy spring morning, the start of the Nasdaq-100 Open was still an hour away Wednesday when Maria Sharapova settled into a chair, yawned and stretched her 6-foot frame. "It's too early," she said with a laugh. Maria had the day off because all seeded entrants received an opening-round bye in the 12-day event. The No. 2-seeded Russian will play her first match against Eleni Daniilidou, likely on Friday, and she'll try to bounce back from the worst loss of her career.

Maria Sharapova

Maria lost 6-0, 6-0 to Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals of the Pacific Life Open last week. It was an astounding drubbing for the reigning Wimbledon champion, who won just 23 points while committing 25 unforced errors. "That's just part of our sport. You're not going to be at your best all the time," Maria said. "I didn't really find a way to fight out there. Usually I find a way to get a rhythm in the match, and I wasn't able to do that. "It was good for me to take a few days off and forget about it."
Daniilidou earned a shot at Maria by beating Tathiana Garbin 6-3, 4-6, 6-1. Vera Douchevina defeated Emilie Loit 6-3, 6-3 and will next face Serena Williams, who is seeking her fourth consecutive Key Biscayne title. American Marissa Irvin eliminated Magui Serna 6-3, 7-5.
Maria enters the tournament with a record of 17-2 this year. Her only other loss came in the semifinals of the Australian Open, when she failed to convert three match points against Williams. "Whether I have three match points or it's 6-0, 6-0, it's a loss," Maria said. "I'm not going to win every single match in my career, but losses really motivate me." She needs to reach the semifinals next week to have a chance at a rematch with Williams. They met for the first time a year ago at Key Biscayne, and Williams beat Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-3.
"That was a whole year ago," Maria said. "I learned a lot, and it definitely helped me." Less than four months later, Maria upset Williams in the Wimbledon final. The Russian won again when they played in the final of the year-ending WTA Championships. "It has been an amazing year," she said. "Everything has happened so fast. I have been getting letters from people I never thought knew who I was — like Stella McCartney. It's a bit of a surprise."
McCartney, a fashion designer and daughter of Paul McCartney, has sent clothes to Maria Sharapova. There have been many other rewards and awards for her success, such as the WTA Tour Player of the Year honor Maria received at a banquet Tuesday. But barely two years after becoming a tour regular, Maria knows there's still room for improvement. Her most recent match provided a reminder. "Physically I have to get stronger," she said. "And there are a lot of little things I can improve — trying to use my advantages, such as my serve, to make my life easier on the court."


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