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Maria Sharapova: Victory in the Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (Jan. 26) - When Maria Sharapova walked on court for the Australian Open final, she kept thinking about the sage advice of another champion.

"Champions take chances, and pressure is a privilege," Billy Jean King had written in a text message that Sharapova saw when she woke up.

"I took mine," fifth-ranked Sharapova said after beating Ana Ivanova 7-5, 6-3 Saturday for her third Grand Slam title.

Sharapova, who didn't lose a set in seven matches, was clearly determined that nothing would stop her after winning only three games against Serena Williams in last year's final.

She was over a shoulder problem that plagued her last year. She was hitting winners with regularity. Her focus never wavered, even when her usually dependable serve briefly let her down.

She wasn't as sharp as when she ended top-ranked Justine Henin's 32-match winning streak in the quarterfinals or beat No. 3 Jelena Jankovic in the semifinals. But there was no doubt she deserved to win.

"I did the things I needed to do in order to win the match," Sharapova said, making it sound a lot more simple than it was.

Ivanovic, who at 20 is the same age as Sharapova and will rise to No. 2 when the new rankings come out, was left to find a silver lining.

"I'm still young and I still think I have a lot of Grand Slam finals in front of me," she said. "It hurts a bit now, but I'm sure I can learn from it."

Now Serbia's hopes for a title here rest with No. 3 Novak Djokovic, who faces unseeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, the tournament's big surprise, in the men's final Sunday evening.

Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram became the first Israeli doubles pairing to win a Grand Slam when they outlasted Michael Llodra and Arnaud Clement 7-5 7-6 (4) Saturday.

Sharapova's 2004 Wimbledon title made her only the second Russian woman to win a major - just weeks after Anastasia Myskina captured the French Open.

Her win over Ivanovic was the fifth major by a Russian woman.

Sharapova first met King, winner of 39 singles and doubles Grand Slam titles, at a juniors tournament when she was 13 or 14.

"From that point on, she's just always been really supportive," Sharapova said. "She's always one of the first people to text me when either I'm having a tough moment or a great win."

She woke up to King's inspirational text message.

"I had those great words in my mind during the match," she said, adding that when it was over, she got another message: "Congratulations. You did great."

On a hot, mostly sunny day, Sharapova retreated to the shade behind the baselines 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.

Both players showed some nerves; Sharapova was simply more consistent. She had only two more winners than Ivanovic, but less than half as many as the Serbian's 33 unforced errors.

"I knew I had to be aggressive, and that type of game will obviously cause more mistakes," Ivanovic said.

Serving at 2-2 in the first set, 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 committed three double faults while serving at 4-3 to hand the game to Ivanovic.

She shrugged off the setback, running off the last three games, rallying from 0-30 as she served for the set.

"I didn't get impatient," Sharapova said. "She's two points away from winning the first set in a Grand Slam final. If you want it, take it. And she didn't."

From 3-3 in the second set, Sharapova ran off the last three games again, breaking Ivanovic for the fourth time to finish the match.

Sharapova dropped to her knees and appeared to be fighting back tears as she waved and blew kisses to the crowd. She shook hands and exchanged high fives with her father and supporters.

Sharapova wished her mother, Yelena, a happy birthday and told her how she planned to spend some of her $1.2 million in prize money.

"With this big, fat check, I'm going to send you a bunch of roses," she said. "Last year I lost on her birthday and this year I said I'm going to make it up to her, and I did."

The Russian star said when her coach and hitting partner Michael Joyce's mother died, it helped her put her cope with the hard times.

Every time she went out to play or practice "Jane was the name we were thinking about," Sharapova said. "I want to dedicate this win to her because after the loss (Joyce) suffered, I got a whole lot of perspective with my injuries and setbacks.

"It helped me prioritize so many things that were outside of tennis."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.


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