Thursday, December 21, 2006

Confessions of a Teenage Drama (and Tennis) Queen

I was watching an old episode of Around the Horn (terrible show on ESPN...but it's Christmas Break, what can I say?) and a 2004 edition of the show had the Jennifer Capriati French Open semifinal meltdown (she lost two and two to Myskina) as one of the points of discussion.

The various guests on the show (all writers for distinguished American newspapers) talked about the bombing of Capriati and how the French Open field had been depleted to a barrage of unknowns. One of the players that was mentioned was none other than Maria Sharapova, the now Teenage Drama Queen of the Tennis Court.

It was amusing to watch these professional sports journalists stumble over Sharapova's name, and when one of them said that she was the up-and-comer of the tour, the others scoffed at their colleague and it was on to talk of Tiger's slump and NASCAR catastrophes.

Two weeks later, however, Maria would belt her way through the Wimbledon field in order to capture her maiden slam title. After squeaking out a quarterfinal win over Ai Sugiyama (7-5 in the third) and being saved by the rains of London and a moody Lindsay Davenport, Sharapova took Serena Williams (and the rest of the tennis world) by surprise with her 6-1, 6-4 drubbing of the younger Williams. Tennis had found its new Queen: 17 and cell-phone savvy; she could giggle almost as good as she could grunt.

In the past two years, Sharapova has matched (if not surpassed) Serena Williams in the tennis diva slash celebrity category by becoming an internationally-known model/spokeswoman/athlete/sex symbol/millionaire. The difference, however, was that Sharapova was able to maintain her high level of play, advancing to five slam semifinals following her Wimbledon 04 title and finally landing a sophomore slam at the US Open this past fall.

Even with all this on-court and off-court success, the lords of the 21st century demanded more of the Russian-born Sharapova. It wasn't enough that she had won multiple slams, signed the biggest endorsement in women's sports history or been named one of the 100 most beautiful people in the world, Sharapova didn't have a (gasp!) website. Like any star (athlete or actress), Sharapova answered with swift action, launching, her website in late September following her US Open victory. What is surprising about this website isn't that it gives fans useless links and out-of-date information, but rather the Sharapova-ness that is distinguishably oozes.

Maria blogs at least once a week, talking about her personal life and the adventures of a young star. This - as far as my research shows - is the best women's pro tennis player web page on the internet. The photos, the blogs, the news updates and the player information (stats, etc.) are all there for both the common fan and the Maria maniacs alike. I particularly enjoy Sharapova's latest installment: The Top 10 Lists.

And until Venus, Serena, Justine or Amelie is able to name their top ten "Things They Hate" or "Sweets They Love" while training during the off-season for the most grueling grand slam of the year, I must crown Miss Sharapova as the Teenage Drama (and Tennis) Queen for the new year. It's not just her on-court performances that are grabbing our attention now; but the quick-witted and light-hearted confessions of a champion that keep us coming back.

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