Sharapova deserves better than comparisons with certain compatriot
Posted: Friday July 2, 2004 1:51PM; Updated: Wednesday July 7, 2004 11:35AM
Maria Sharapova may have the firepower to ignite a sport.
Maria Sharapova is no longer that up-and-coming teen talent from Russia, no longer that unknown quantity. She's the real deal: The second youngest Wimbledon finalist in the Open era behind Martina Hingis, and the first Russian woman in 30 years, since Olga Morozova, to make the Wimbledon final. She is -- as she's said before -- Maria Sharapova, and she's nobody's wannabe.
In other words, can we now please stop comparing Sharapova to Anna Kournikova?
Yes, she has long blonde hair, hails from Russia, trained at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy and has been featured on the covers of several men's magazines. But Sharapova's a legitimate threat on the tennis court; Kournikova no longer is -- and arguably never really was.
For years, Sharapova has said she wasn't the second coming of Kournikova. In a 2001 Sports Illustrated Scorecard item, the then 14-year-old protégé said, "[Kournikova] hasn't won a tournament yet, so it's hard to admire her."
Kournikova's game shouldn't be entirely dismissed, but she never reached the level Sharapova has now attained. Kournikova was a strong doubles player, winning 16 titles and earning a No. 1 ranking in doubles in 1999, but in 129 tournament tries she never nabbed that elusive singles title. Kournikova is semi-retired and hasn't played a Grand Slam since the 2003 Australian Open, where she lost in the second round to Justine Henin-Hardenne by an embarrassing score of 6-0, 6-1.
At age 16, Kournikova reached the semifinals of the 1997 Wimbledon tournament, so it was an understandable comparison this year when Sharapova reached the same round at age 17. But now Sharapova has surpassed anything Kournikova ever achieved, and it's high time to stop mentioning Kournikova in the same bated breath as Sharapova.
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Sharapova is -- at least -- a Wimbledon finalist, a French quarterfinalist and a winner of three WTA tournaments. She deserves better than the Anna Kournikova with Game headlines. She wants to be noticed for her talent, not just for her looks, and she has earned that right after coming into Wimbledon and beating 1999 champion Lindsay Davenport after trailing 6-2, 3-1 to make her first, and undoubtedly not her last, Grand Slam final. Sharapova is a talented athlete with incredible drive and intensity who should be respected for her game while it is still her top priority.
Although Sharapova hasn't exactly shunned magazine cover shoots, she appears to genuinely make tennis her No. 1 focus. "[Sharapova] is in total control of her career, and what she wants to do is win Grand Slams," Max Eisenbud, Sharapova's agent told New York newspapers during the second week of Wimbledon. "Maybe Anna didn't say 'no' enough."
And maybe that is exactly why we so badly need to curtail the Kournikova comparisons. If Sharapova stays focused on tennis, she has the potential to be a great champion and a welcome addition to the women's game. With Davenport more than hinting at retirement, Venus Williams showing lackluster interest in the sport and with the sudden disappearances of Monica Seles and Hingis, women's tennis needs a spark. With Sharapova's still-developing power game and her spirited fire on the court, she has the potential to ignite and rejuvenate a sport. Sharapova is the new face of tennis -- whether she looks like Anna Kournikova or not.