Azarenka Comes Out At The Open

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – She dances, she sings, and heck she can hit the ball too.

This is a different Victoria Azarenka we are used to seeing. In the past, she could be testy, yelling at the umpires, linespersons and even ballboys and ball girls.

But now, she is having fun.

All thanks to a sitdown with her grandmother Nina.

“I guess it’s just the mentality change, you know, the approach change,” Azarenka said. “I just know how to prepare myself to be in that state of mind.  It’s never always the same.  Sometimes to come up with that fire it takes a little bit more energy out of me or, you know, a little bit of adaptation, something that I have to bring myself.

“But, yeah, the approach is there.  I enjoy playing on the court.  It’s always there.”

Quietly, we have started to see it the last two weeks. Even though she’s the No. 1 seed, the 23 year-old has been overshadowed by the more household names on the tour.

But after her thrilling 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova in the Semifinals, everyone is starting to know her now.

And she is having the time of her life.

“It’s sometimes it’s not as fun,” she said with a laugh.  “Especially in that first set today it wasn’t that fun. But I try to enjoy my moment.  I feel like I don’t want it to end.  I’m living this great run, you know, this great opportunities that coming at me, that I just want to continue and enjoy that ride.

“When I’m on the court, I feel like I’m in paradise.  I’m in that most comfortable place I can be.  Why not enjoy it?”

The Belarusian has made a name for herself this year. In the semifinals once in a Grand Slam before 2012, she is now on the cusp to win her second major of the year after winning the Australian earlier this season.

But now, she is facing maybe her toughest competition: Serena Williams.

“Well, first of all, if you look at our record it says it all,” Azarenka, who is 1-9 careerwise against Serena, said. “I mean, I haven’t won in any last meetings, so I definitely need to find something to surprise her tomorrow, because she’s in a great form, you know, feeling really confident right now.

“She has everything on her side.”

And that includes the crowd, who will support the American every day of the week. Azarenka, though isn’t going to be wearing Bobby Bonilla style earplug to drown out the noise.

“I will not really use ear plugs, but I definitely I would be surprised if it would be the other way, so I kind of know that already,” she said. “It’s not the first time for me to kind of face that.  It’s definitely gonna be the first time being in the US Open, but, you know, there is a lot of things that been for the first time for me in this year.  I just need to adjust and try to be, you know, who I am on the court.”

But to win the championship or even make it a game, what does she have to do?

“Well, I have to, you know, try to return well, definitely,” she said smiling.  “And serve.  Because, well, with Serena it’s not really the long rallies.  It’s all about, you know, who grabs the first opportunity, who is more brave to, you know, step it up right from the beginning.”

And if she does it, she will have a puncher’s chance against Serena. But whatever happens, the No. 1 seed will have fun with it.

At least that’s what her grandmother told her to do.

 

 

Azarenka, Sharapova and Errani/Vinci first to qualify for TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships-Istanbul

NEW YORK, NY, USA – The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced today that World No.1 Victoria Azarenka, four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova and the top doubles team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci are the first players to qualify for this year’s TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships, which will be staged at the Sinan Erdem Arena in Istanbul, Turkey. The WTA’s year-end finale, to be held from October 23-28, will feature the world’s top eight singles players and top four doubles teams, competing for the coveted title and a share of $4.9 million in prize money.

“I congratulate Victoria, Maria, Sara and Roberta on becoming the first players to secure their places at the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships-Istanbul,” said Stacey Allaster, WTA Chairman and CEO. “Maria and Victoria have had outstanding seasons with each earning Grand Slam titles, the WTA World No.1 ranking and Olympic medals, highlighted by Maria achieving her career Grand Slam. Sara and Roberta have been the stand-out doubles pair this year, winning seven titles including their first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros.”

“We are delighted that Victoria, Maria, Sara and Roberta have qualified for the second staging of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships-Istanbul, which launched with such great success last year in Turkey,” said Ayda Uluç, Turkish Tennis Federation President. “We are planning to raise the bar even higher at this year’s event and look forward to showcasing the talents of these extraordinary players to fans in Istanbul and around the world.”

 

Victoria Azarenka

“This year has been amazing for me so far, starting by winning the Australian Open, becoming WTA World No.1 for the first time and winning two medals at the Olympics. Last year, the atmosphere at the WTA Championships in Istanbul was great and I am looking forward to playing there again.”

After winning her first Grand Slam title at this year’s Australian Open, Azarenka became the 22nd player to hold the WTA World No.1 ranking. Her stellar start to the season began with a 26 match winning streak, the best since 1997 when Martina Hingis won 37 straight. The streak yielded the Belarusian four singles titles: the Apia International Sydney, Australian Open, Qatar Total Open (Doha) and BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells).

The 23-year-old’s strong results have also included finishing runner-up at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (Stuttgart) and Mutua Madrid Open, advancing to the semifinals at Wimbledon and US Open, and claiming singles bronze and mixed doubles gold medals at the London 2012 Olympics. This year Azarenka boasts a WTA-leading 14 victories over Top 10 ranked opponents, including a 7-2 record against Top 5 opponents.

Azarenka returns to the Championships for the fourth consecutive year, having finished runner-up to Petra Kvitova in a close three-set final in 2011.

 Maria Sharapova

“I am very happy to be returning to Istanbul for the WTA Championships. This year has been really special for me, winning the Roland Garros title to complete my career Grand Slam, rising back to No.1 for a time and of course taking home a silver medal from the London Olympics. It will be great to finish off the season in Turkey. We received such incredible support from the fans last year, so I’m looking forward to competing against the world’s best players there once again.”

The 25-year-old became only the 6th player in the Open Era to complete a career Grand Slam when she claimed the Roland Garros title in June. The victory propelled her back to WTA World No.1 for the first time since 2008, a position she held for 4 weeks, taking her career total to 21 weeks. The Russian also made her Olympic debut in London, coming away with a silver medal.

Sharapova has won three titles in 2012: the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix (Stuttgart), Internazionali BNL d’Italia (Rome) and Roland Garros, her fourth Grand Slam title. She finished runner-up at the Australian Open, BNP Paribas Open (Indian Wells), Sony Open Tennis (Miami) and the Olympics.

Sharapova, who defeated Serena Williams to win the 2004 Championships, will compete in the season-ending tournament for the sixth time in her career. She also finished runner-up in 2007, and her 3 hour, 24 minute final against Justine Henin remains the longest WTA singles final on record.

 

Sara Errani/Roberta Vinci

“We are so happy, so excited, to have qualified for the WTA Championships,” said Vinci. “We’ve played very good tennis this year and this is the reward. I was at the WTA Championships a long time ago, back in 2001, but it is even more special for me to do this with such a good friend as Sara. I think the level of competition in doubles has become even tougher over the last decade, so we are looking forward to some great matches at Istanbul.”

Errani and Vinci will be the first all-Italian team to compete at the prestigious year-end event. Vinci will be returning to the Championships for the second time in her career – 11 years after her first appearance in doubles in 2001 (partnered with Sandrine Testud, QF). Errani will be making her tournament debut, joining a list of a list of five Italians who have competed in doubles at the Championships including Rita Grande (2001), Flavia Pennetta (2010, 2011), Francesca Schiavone (2006) and Vinci (2001).

Errani and Vinci have had an outstanding year, winning seven titles, highlighted by becoming the first all-Italian pair to win a Grand Slam doubles title at Roland Garros. The duo won five consecutive titles – Barcelona Ladies Open, Mutua Madrid Open, Internazionali BNL d’Italia (Rome), Roland Garros and UNICEF Open (‘s-Hertogenbosch) – and their 25-match win streak was the longest by a team since 1994, when Gigi Fernández and Natasha Zvereva won 28 straight.

First teaming up on a regular basis in 2010, Errani and Vinci have collected a total of 12 doubles titles as a team. They have also compiled an undefeated record to date in Fed Cup doubles competition for Italy, being key ingredients in the country’s championship runs in 2009 and 2010.

On Monday, September 10, Errani and Vinci will rise to World No.1 and 2 respectively on the WTA’s doubles rankings. Errani becomes the second Italian to hold the honor, after countrywoman Flavia Pennetta held the top spot for 18 weeks during 2011.


RACE TO THE TEB BNP PARIBAS WTA CHAMPIONSHIPS-ISTANBUL

(players/teams in bold already qualified)

SINGLES

DOUBLES

PLAYER

POINTS

TEAM

POINTS

Maria Sharapova (RUS) 7290 Errani / Vinci 8079
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) 7286 Huber / Raymond 6756
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) 6017 Hlavackova / Hradecka 5700
Serena Williams (USA) 5900 Kirilenko / Petrova 4055
Petra Kvitova (CZE) 5031   Kops-Jones / Spears 2983
Angelique Kerber (GER) 4920 Llaogstera Vives / Martinez Sanchez 2837
Li Na (CHN) 3992 Vesnina / Makarova 2321
Sara Errani (ITA) 3990
Samantha Stosur (AUS) 3072
Marion Bartoli (FRA) 2905

 

Tickets for the 2012 TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships–Istanbul, as well as info about the event, are available for purchase through Biletix – either online at www.biletix.com or at Biletix ticket counters in Turkey.

Follow all the latest news about the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships-Istanbul on www.wtachampionships.com, www.facebook.com/WTA, and www.twitter.com/WTA using #WTAChamps.

 

MEDIA CONTACT:

Eloise Tyson, WTA, +44.207.386.4100, etyson@wtatennis.com

Feray Akşit Güney, TEB, +90.216.635.6487, feray.aksitguney@teb.com.tr

Elodie Verbeke, BNP Paribas global sponsorship, +33632300396, elodie.verbeke@bnpparibas.com

 


 

About BNP Paribas:

BNP Paribas (www.bnpparibas.com) is one of the strongest banks in the world*. The Group has a presence in more than 80 countries and more than 200,000 employees, including more than 160,000 in Europe. It ranks highly in its three core activities: Retail Banking, Investment Solutions and Corporate & Investment Banking. In Europe, the Group has four domestic markets (Belgium, France, Italy and Luxembourg) and BNP Paribas Personal Finance is the leader in consumer lending. BNP Paribas is rolling out its integrated retail banking model across the Europe-Mediterranean zone and boasts a large network in the western part of the United States. In its Corporate & Investment Banking and Investment Solutions activities, BNP Paribas also enjoys top positions in Europe, a strong presence in the Americas and solid and fast-growing businesses in Asia.

* Rated AA by Standard & Poor’s i.e. 3rd rating level on a scale of 22.

 

About Türk Ekonomi Bankası (TEB):

Türk Ekonomi Bankası (TEB), a reputable and prestigious institution in the Turkish banking sector, was established in 1927. Since its establishment, TEB, with its expanded network of branches and a diversified range of products and services, pursues operating in various fields of the banking sector as investment, leasing, factoring and portfolio management. In February 2005, BNP Paribas, one of the top 10 most important banks in the world and the largest in the Euro zone, operating in 83 countries, became a partner of TEB which went public in February 2000. In the wake of its strategic partnership with the BNP Paribas, Türk Ekonomi Bankası carries its expertise in foreign trade, corporate, commercial and private banking over into the fields of retail banking and banking for small and medium-sized businesses. Today TEB is one of the major players of the Turkish Financial Services Market with consolidated asset size of 40.5 billion TL and more than 9.000 employees.

 

About BNP Paribas and Tennis:  

Long-standing partner to the sport of tennis since 1973, BNP Paribas is actively involved in the game at both local and international level, and in club, schools and social tennis as well as professional events. BNP Paribas has gradually become the number one sponsor in world tennis: official sponsor of Roland Garros since 1973 and sponsor of five ATP Masters 1000 events – the BNP Paribas Masters since 1986, Monte Carlo Masters since 2005, Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome since 2006, BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells since 2009 and the Shanghai Masters since 2010. The Group is also title sponsor of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas since 2001 and the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas since 2005, as well as being actively involved in many other international competitions including the Bank of the West Classic in California, the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca, the Open 13 in Marseille and the BNP Paribas Showdown in New York. BNP Paribas is also an official partner of International Wheelchair Tennis, such as the the “BNP Paribas World Team Cup”. Through its support for more than 20 national tennis associations, 2000 clubs, 550 amateur tournaments, plus schools and social programs around the world, BNP Paribas helps to promote tennis and encourage widespread participation in the game. The Group’s commitment to social values is reflected in the sports sponsorships it has undertaken in numerous projects, including Yannick Noah’s ‘Fête le Mur’ Association and the tennis Téléthon in France, the Oberer Tennis Camp in Switzerland and the BNP Paribas ‘Taste of Tennis’ in the United States. As part of its creative sports sponsorship policy, BNP Paribas has launched a website “www.wearetennis.com” entirely dedicated to tennis news.  The Group’s new sponsorship slogan ‘We are tennis’ underlines the fact that BNP Paribas promotes tennis for all, at all levels.

 


With Sugarpova, Maria Sharapova Looks to Sweeten the World of Candy

Throughout her tennis career, the 25-year old Maria Sharapova has not been sweet to her opponents, winning four Grand Slam titles, including the 2012 French Open. But Sharapova is looking to be a lot sweeter to many, as she launches Sugarpova, a premium candy line that reflects her fun, fashionable, sweet side.

I had a chance to ask Maria about Sugarpova and how it began. “I can’t take credit for coming up with the name. I was having a meeting with my manager who had met with Jeff Rubin, who is pretty influential in the candy business, and they had started talking about it. Originally, it was something I was going to be a part of, then I thought…I really want to own this”, Maria said. “I guess I can say it started because I have been part of so many little things in my career, been a part of collaborations and collections. It came to a point where I really wanted to invest my own money into something, make all final decisions” Sharapova continued.

Sugarpova offers a bit of luxury, and aims to interpret classic candies in her own signature style. She hopes to bring a new level of quality to the candy world through fun, unexpected types, shapes and names. Some of the names include Smitten Sour, Flirty, and Cheeky.

Sugarpova is already off to a good start, as Sharapova mentioned that the candies are sold out. What should people expect from the brand in the future? “I do hope it goes into chocolate and caramels and all that, but for my body I really hope not” she said with laughter. Sharapova has enjoyed the sweet taste of success on the court, and, with Sugarpova, off the court as well.

Sharapova Into Quarters With Help From Rain

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Maybe some higher power is looking favorably on Maria Sharapova, because the rain came at the right time tonight.

With the No. 3 seed down a break in the third set against Nadia Petrova, the sky’s opened for a 75 minute rain delay, and after play resumed, she took a 6-1 4-6 6-4 win to make the Quarterfinals for the first time since she won the Open in 2006.

“It’s a tough situation because I felt like there’s so many ups and downs between the beginning of the first till that break.,” Sharapova said. “She was up a break and it was a little bit difficult going in because I felt like I started getting a little bit of momentum back in the second set and then just didn’t really take my chances when I had them and played a sloppy game at 4‑5.

“But I didn’t really mind.  I have the experience of getting off the court and waiting a little bit and trying to start from scratch.”

Petrova called it Sharapova’s “lucky day” but you have to give Maria a little more credit than that. She has been on a tear this year, winning the French Open and looking determined to get  her second Open next Saturday.

And today, she grinded it out against her fellow country woman, who seemed to be a lot more psky in the second, with Sharapova making a ton of mistakes.

And Petrova had her on the ropes, but Sharapova came out pumped looking to end any threat.

“You’re playing a night match at the US Open, you have a rain delay, you come back, and all the same people that were there waited through for 45 minutes and they came back to watch the end of the match,” she said.  “So that energy in the stadium with the music and the cheering, it’s just unique.  You know, I think it really, really pumped me up and got me going.  I wasn’t going to leave that court without a fight.”

After she came out, she quickly put the set back on serve and gave Petrova no chance against her first service. Petrova’s great serve was shut down by the Russian in the final games.

“That was really important, especially against Nadia,” she said.  “One of her strengths is her serve.  You know, when it’s on and she’s holding easy, that obviously puts more pressure on the service game.

“You really try to concentrate on that, you know, be smart and mix it up a little bit more. Overall I’m really happy with the way it came out in the third.  I didn’t let that little letdown bother me.  I just kept on fighting.”

Now she will take on Marion Bartoli, who roars into the Quarters with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-0 win over Petra Kvitova.

“We haven’t played in a while.  It was a great win for her today, someone who has been playing really good this summer,” she said.  “Yeah, it’s nice to see her back in the quarterfinals of a slam.  I think she’s been a little bit up and down, but obviously her level has stepped up here.  Honestly, I haven’t watched any of her matches here.

“I played her before; I know her game style.  It’s always a little bit different, nontraditional.  But, yeah, it’s the quarterfinals and I’m excited.”

Hopefully, Sharapova won’t need the rain gods for this one.

Maria Opens Up

FLUSHING MEADOWS – Maria Sharapova is back to being the front on star of tennis. She is crushing her opponents, while acting like the starlet we all know and love.

After she dispatched Mallory Burdette today – in a match where she thought she would be booed – the 25 year-old started to reflect on her career with the up and comers, like Laura Robson and Sloane Stephens making names for themselves, while Kim Clijsters is retiring to motherhood.

“Well, I’ll tell you, when I was 18 or 19, if someone told me I was going to be playing at 25, which was seven years from then, I’d be like, Stop, this is ridiculous.  You’re crazy,” she said.  “But here I am at 25 years old.  Although I didn’t play for nine, ten months in my career, I’m 25, and I feel like I have so many more years left.  I still wake up in the morning and feel like I can be better and motivated.  I have energy and I’m healthy.”

And she has a legit chance to win her second US Open and start on a second career slam, after winning the French Open this year to gain her first. After being injured with a bad shoulder, Sharapova looked like a has been in recent years, but the strength and skill has returned.

That makes for interesting topics from the mercurial Russian, who at times can seem somewhat arrogant. But that’s her nature and she doesn’t mean to be mean.

In fact she had some kind words to say about her competitors and because of her experience; Sharapova offers some unique insight about each of them.

First there’s Robson , who Sharapova said she knew for years.

“Laura was someone who was obviously throughout the years ‑ I think she won junior Wimbledon, and she’s someone that I think a lot of people expected to do well at an early age,” Sharapova said. “I mean, this is definitely her breakthrough tournament, her breakthrough Grand Slam where she’s been playing extremely well.

“I’ve practiced with her a few times.  Played her at the Olympics and last year at Wimbledon.  She has a big game, and also a lefty, which adds to her strength.”

And then there is Stephens, the young American who many have been comparing to the next coming of Venus Williams. Stephens is the daughter of former NFL running back John Stephens who played for the New England Patriots.

“I played against her in Miami,” Sharapova said.   “I don’t remember the score, but she’s a great athlete.  Moves so well.  I watched a little bit of her match yesterday.  She’s a great fighter and, you know, was able to come back from that match.

“Obviously that’s the newer generation, and I’m somewhere in the middle there. “

Sharapova also had kind words to say about Clijsters, who was sent home by Robson on Wednesday and into retirement.

“I was very fortunate to play a lot of matches against Kim and follow her career,” she said.   “I mean, she was such a great athlete, a great competitor.  We always had really tough battles against each other. It was amazing to see her career unfold.  The way she came back after, you know, becoming a mom and having that dedication and, you know, that fire again, it was pretty incredible.

“It showed how much she loved the sport and how much passion she had for it.”

With all of this going on – and let’s not forget Andy Roddick – it’s easy to forget Sharapova, but she easily won her first three matches, especially today against Burdette, 6-1 6-1.

Seeded No. 3, Sharapova is feeling pretty good about herself.

“I didn’t know too much going into this event because I hadn’t played on hard in a few months,” Sharapova said.   “I think that made me extra focused, and I wanted to really get going from the beginning and be aggressive.

“Yeah, took a little bit of a break after Wimbledon and went home.  I think I kind of recharged a little bit.  Certainly feel a lot more energy than I did maybe after the French.”

She’s going to be tough and someone to watch out for next week.

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Maria Sharapova has a comeback year in 2011. And she did by using the Head YouTek IG INSTINCT.

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All of this means use of less energy when hitting the ball, which allows you to go all the way in those long set matches.

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BNP Paribas Showdown Returns to The Garden This February

The BNP Paribas Showdown will have a 2012 version at new and refurbished Madison Square Garden on February 27, 2012.

Maria Sharapova and world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki will make their first appearances in the event in the 7:00 pm opener. That match will be followed by Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick.

Last year Roddick was scheduled to play Andre Agassi,but Pete Sampras ended up playing Agassi after John McEnroe was forced to default to Ivan Lendl due to injury in the first match despite leading 6-3.

Federer has played in the past and won against Sampras.

There will be an opportunity to bid on the event at the International Tennis Hall Of Fame Ball this coming Friday evening at Cipriani in Manhattan.

Tickets will go on sale at The Garden in the Fall.

The Sharapova Express Derails

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – The Maria Sharapova Express hit a derailment today.

The 2006 US Open Champion was supposed to go pretty far in this tournament after fully coming back from her shoulder surgery and receiving the No. 3 seed.

But Italian Flavia Pennetta had something else to say about that with a 6-3 3-6 6-4 win over the Russian by the way of Florida in the third round of the US Open.

“I made way too many unforced errors,” she said.  “I fought back to get myself back in the match in the third set.  I think the first three, four games on every game I had a chance to win that game, whether it was a breakpoint or it was a game point on my serve, and I didn’t win those games.

“When you’re done 1‑4 and you get yourself back in a position where can you win again and start making errors, it’s just too inconsistent to win the match against her.”

Sharapova committed 60 unforced errors with 29 coming in the first set and 12 double faults in the match compared to only 35 self inflicted wounds by her Italian counterpart and only six giveaways.

She said she didn’t “feel comfortable” all game and just couldn’t get on track.

And when she got it in the third Sharapova couldn’t sustain her undefeated 2011 in third set. And even with that kind of confidence, it didn’t matter.

“I never think I’m going to lose the match, no matter if I’m 1‑4 or 0‑5,” she said. “I don’t have that mentality that I’m going to lose no matter how bad or how good I’m playing.  You can’t have that mentality.”

And thus another disappointing Open for the Russian. Even though she went to the Finals at Wimbledon, the 24 year-old leaves Flushing before Labor Day with the hopes of maybe a better Asian season this fall.

“I’m not really looking forward to a 14‑hour flight in a couple of weeks,” she said dryly.  “Yeah, the year is not over.  We’ve still got ‑‑ I think I still have three tournaments to go or so.

“Yeah, once they come then it will be time to play again and raise my level.  Until then, I just have to, you know, keep working in order for me to go out in the match and raise it.”

McHale’s Navy Attacks In Full Force

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – Two years ago, people started to “Believe” in Melanie Oudin and her Cinderella run.

This year the New York crowd may be ready to board McHale’s Navy.

Nineteen year-old Christina McHale, stormed to the third round with a straight set win over No. 8 seed 7-6 (2) 6-2 to become the darling of this year’s open.

“I knew that like I had to try,” the New Jersey resident said.  “I couldn’t play like any sloppy games.  I had to try and compete really hard in the second set because I knew she was going to try even harder, too, to get the second set because she lost the first.

“When I went from 3‑Love to 3‑2, I was like, C’mon, Christina, don’t let it get back to 3‑All.  That game was a big game to get it to 4‑2.”

McHale isn’t any stranger to upsets. She slayed World No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in Cincinnati last month in the first round and then proceeded to beat Aleksandra Wozniak in the first round.

This win may have topped it off for the young American.

“I think they’re different wins.  I had never really, at the Grand Slams, made it past the second round,” she said.  “Yeah, that was a good win for me, too, but I think to have it happen here at the Grand Slam is exciting for me.”

Two years ago, during Oudin-mania McHale quietly win her first round match against Polona Hercog but lost to Maria Sharapova. Now, though, she seems poised to take on the bigger names in the sport on her rise to the top.

Yet, she is trying to not to get too tied up in the hype and become a long term disappointment like Oudin.

“I try not to think about that too much,” she said.  “I mean, when I go out there every time on the court, I’m going to try my best, try to compete really hard.”

Being from New Jersey means this is her hometown match. For years as a teenager she came to Flushing as a fan to watch the greats competed for the title.

Now she is getting the same treatment she gave to her heroes.

“Someone asked me this the other day,” she said.  “I don’t remember a particular match.  I just remember we’d all get here when the gates opened and we’d literally spend the whole day here, all of our friends, running from court to court, trying to get an autograph, a picture.

“It was so much fun for us.”

Almost as fun as winning the second round of the Open and if she beats the 25th seed Maria Kirilenko in the third round, then McHale’s Navy may be in full force.

All Aboard!

Maria Through The First With Good Open Chance

FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – It’s pretty easy for Maria Sharapova to blame her sluggish start today on the weather.

Sure today’s conditions were perfect, but this past weekend kept her indoors.

“I think the last couple days have been tough on players,” said Sharapova after she downed the unseeded Heather Watson 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. “Obviously none of us practiced yesterday.  The day before was raining.  Everybody was trying to get 30 minutes on an indoor court, which is always a little bit tough.

“So I think it was just going out there and trying to find that consistency.”

So the 2006 US Open Champion spent yesterday in her hotel room, playing with her dog, going to the gym and taking in what was open in New York City.

Yet, her dog may have been trying to tell her something during the storm yesterday.

“My dog kept like going back to his little bag,” she said.  “It kind of freaked me out because that’s a sign he wanted to go home.  Maybe the hurricane was going to be bad.  We were lucky, yeah, that it was just a little rain.”

New York was lucky yesterday and the No. 3 seed was lucky today when she survived the match with British Watson, even though she committed 58 unforced errors (39 in the first set) and eight double faults.

“I don’t think I did enough to make her feel like she had any pressure in the first set,” Sharapova said.  “You know, I’d hit one, two good balls, then hit an error.  Whether it was a centimeter or two out, it doesn’t matter, it’s still an error.”

Even with the slow start, Sharapova was too much for Watson. Using her power game, she was able to squeak by in the second set and then dominate the third to advance in this version of the US Open. She is the new Maria, someone who is older, wiser and out to prove she isn’t washed up at the tender age of 24.

Instead, after years of injuries and inconsistencies, Sharapova is ready to dominate again. A year of resurgence saw her win in Rome and then Cincinnati, while losing the finals in Miami and of course Wimbledon. It was good enough to rank her No. 3 in Flushing, and one of the odds on favorites for the tournament.

“Well, I just feel like this year I’ve improved,” she said. “Last year I felt like I would play a couple good matches and then I’d play a bad match.  I didn’t have that sense of consistency, and that’s something I felt like something that has changed this year.”

Even at her still young age, Sharapova is the grizzled veteran on the circuit. And much like any other sport, she has made adjustments. Where she was a pure power player before, the Russian by the way of Florida is now a more complete player, with a defensive game to go with her attack.

During her journey back, which she called it “the process” she had many pitfalls, but her hard work is now looking like it is paying off.

“Well, it’s just great to still be a tennis player,” she said.  “I’ve said this many times.  I’m very fortunate to do what I do, obviously, to do it at a high level and to win tournaments and to win big matches obviously.

“It gives you tremendous amount of confidence and delight that the work you’ve put in, you know, is paying off.  It’s the time that you spend away from the courts, the time that people don’t see what you put into the sport of trying to get back there.  Just to play a match, and then do it over and over again, not many people experience that feeling, see it.

“So to be able to prove to yourself that you’ve put in that work and there you are at that stage again, giving yourself these opportunities to win Grand Slams again, it’s a good feeling.”

And now with the first round hiccup out of the way, Maria Sharapova seems poised for her Open run.

Of course let’s hope there are no more hurricanes.