Sharapova recalls her road to redemption

MARIA SHARAPOVA got high marks for the eloquence of her victory speech after winning the Australian Open on Saturday. Ditto on the preparation that got her there.

While she spoke, at times almost tearfully, of an inspirational text message from Billie Jean King, of winning the Australian Open for her coach’s mother, who had died of cancer, and of sending birthday roses to her mother, it was a polished speech that almost sounded as if it had been rehearsed.

Embarrassed by her straight-sets loss to Serena Williams last year, Maria appeared to have treated her preparation for her 7-5, 6-3 win over Ana Ivanovic with the same attention to detail.

When Daniela Hantuchova complained after her semi-final loss to Ivanovic that the Serbian’s squeaking shoes during Hantuchova’s service motion had bothered her, Sharapova went into action. She had one of her hitting partners put on the squeakiest shoes he could find, then squeak away when Sharapova was in her service motion. And, on several occasions in Saturday’s match, she simply delayed serving if Ivanovic was moving around.

“Sometimes when you’re putting the work in it just seems so, so hard, and you never know when that work’s going to pay off,” Sharapova said. “When you’re going through tough moments, you never know when you’re going to have good moments.”

There were a lot of good ones for her in the past two weeks in Melbourne en route to her third Grand Slam singles victory. She didn’t lose a set in seven matches. She beat three of the top four women in the world — Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic and Ivanovic. She talked about concentrating only on “taking care of her side of the net.”

“When I walk through that gate to the court, that’s my escape,” Sharapova said. “I block out everything, good and bad. Some of the bad last year was tough to take. In her trophy acceptance speech, Sharapova spoke in heartfelt terms about the death last year of her coach’s mother after a battle with cancer.

“It completely changed my perspective on life,” Sharapova said. “I think the reason for that is because it’s one of the closest people in my team, in my family, that passed away.”

She also talked about losing the final last year on her mother’s birthday, and how she would use some of her winnings to send her roses this year under much happier circumstances.

And of waking up Saturday morning to a text message from King, the winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles who has had an interest in Sharapova’s career since she was as junior. Part of it read: “Champions take chances, and pressure is a privilege.”

With last year’s injuries and personal difficulties behind her, the sincerity of Sharapova’s comments could not be questioned. “I was overwhelmed. Last year my thought process was just so different... I had many negative thoughts. If I would have thought then that I’d be standing on that stage (today), with that winning trophy, I don’t think I would have believed it.”

Asked if she might be still playing 10 years from now, she bristled at the thought. “No, no,” she replied “By that time, I hope that I will have a nice husband and a few kids.”

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