- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2008

MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova won the Australian Open without losing a set, wrapping up her third Grand Slam title with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over Ana Ivanovic today (last night EST).

After Ivanovic sprayed a forehand wide on match point, Sharapova dropped to her knees and appeared to be fighting back tears as she waved and blew kisses to the crowd.

Then the 20-year-old Russian star dropped her racket in her chair before heading to shake hands and exchange high-fives with her father and supporters.

She clasped her hands and swayed as she stood, waiting to receive the Daphne Akhurst Trophy, then told the Rod Laver Arena crowd that she had received a text message from tennis great Billie Jean King telling her that “Champions take chances and pressure is a privilege.”

“I took mine,” said Sharapova, back in a final at a major for the first time since her 6-1, 6-2 loss to Serena Williams last year at Melbourne Park.

Sharapova wished her mother, Yelena, a happy birthday and told her: “With this big fat check, I’m going to send you a bunch of roses.”

The Russian, seeded fifth, was aggressive from the start and, apart from one bad service game in the first set that allowed Ivanovic back to 4-4, controlled the important points against a Serbian player for the second consecutive match.

Sharapova beat No. 3 Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals after ending top-ranked Justine Henin’s 32-match winning streak in the quarterfinals.

Ivanovic, also 20, is 0-2 in Grand Slam finals. She lost the French Open championship match to Henin last year.

Ivanovic, seeded fourth, saved two match points but sprayed a forehand wide to give Sharapova the title, to go with her wins at Wimbledon in 2004 and the 2006 U.S. Open.

On a hot, sunny day with temperatures reaching 93 degrees, people in the crowd were fanning themselves, and Sharapova retreated to the shade behind the baselines to gather herself between points.

It was Australia Day, so organizers put small national flags at each seat. But there were plenty of Serbian and Russian flags, too.

Most of the signs scattered around packed Rod Laver Arena were pretty clear, including one that said “Quiet please Maria,” referring to Sharapova’s high-pitched grunts that get louder and louder as pressure rises.

Both players showed some nerves in the first set, with Ivanovic particularly shaky, committing 19 unforced errors to just six winners.

Serving at 2-2, Ivanovic set up double break point with a double fault, then sent a forehand long.

After holding serve the first three times at love, Sharapova returned the favor, committing three double faults while serving at 4-3, the last two at deuce to hand the game to Ivanovic.

But she shrugged off the setback, running off the last three games, breaking to go ahead 6-5, then pumping her fist and shouting “Go Maria! Come on!” Taking every second possible between points, Sharapova then held at love.

From 3-3 in the second set, Sharapova ran off the last three games again, breaking Ivanovic twice.

Sharapova dropped to her knees and appeared to be fighting back tears as she waved and blew kisses to the crowd. Then she dropped her racket in her chair before heading to shake hands and exchange high fives with her father and supporters.

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