'Happy birthday, mommy'
Jan. 26: Sharapova talks to the gallery after winning the Australian Open.
MELBOURNE, Australia - Maria Sharapova got high marks for the eloquence of her victory speech after winning the Australian Open on Saturday.
Ditto on the preparation that got her there.
While she spoke, at times almost tearfully, of an inspirational text message from Billie Jean King, of winning the Australian Open for her coach's mother, who had died of cancer, and of sending birthday roses to her mother, it was a polished speech that almost sounded as if it had been rehearsed.
Embarrassed by her straight-sets loss to Serena Williams in last year's final here, Sharapova appeared to have treated her preparation for her 7-5, 6-3 win Saturday over Ana Ivanovic with the same attention to detail.
When Daniela Hantuchova complained after her semifinal loss to Ivanovic that the Serbian's squeaking shoes during Hantuchova's service motion had bothered her, Sharapova went into action.
She had one of her hitting partners put on the squeakiest shoes he could find, then squeak away when Sharapova was in her service motion.
And, on several occasions in Saturday's match, she simply delayed serving if Ivanovic was moving around.
"Sometimes when you're putting the work in it just seems so, so hard, and you never know when that work's going to pay off,'' Sharapova said. "When you're going through tough moments, you never know when you're going to have good moments.''
There were a lot of good ones for her in the past two weeks in Melbourne en route to her third Grand Slam singles victory.
She didn't lose a set in seven matches. She beat three of the top four women in the world - Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic and Ivanovic. She talked - time and again - about concentrating only on "taking care of her side of the net.''
That meant working hard at practice and blocking out the questions about the antics of her father, Yuri, in the players' box during matches. Setting aside thoughts of the shoulder problems that plagued her last year, and the questions about her relationship with her mother, which she answered freely and honestly.
"When I walk through that gate to the court, that's my escape,'' Sharapova told The Associated Press. "I block out everything, good and bad.''
Some of the bad last year was tough to take.
In her trophy acceptance speech, Sharapova spoke in heartfelt terms about the death last year of her coach's mother after a lengthy battle with cancer.
"It completely changed my perspective on life,'' Sharapova said. "I think the reason for that is because it's one of the closest people in my team, in my family, that passed away. I'm lucky to have my grandparents and family and friends very healthy, knock on wood.''
She also talked about losing the final last year on her mother's birthday, and how she would use some of her $1 million in winnings to send her roses this year under much happier circumstances.
And of waking up Saturday morning to a text message from King, the winner of 12 Grand Slam singles titles who has had an interest in Sharapova's career since she was as junior. Part of it read: "Champions take chances, and pressure is a privilege.''
When she finished her speech in front of a full house of 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena, she was surprised by the reaction.
"About five people just told me that I said some great things,'' Sharapova said. "I was like: 'I did?' Sometimes I don't know what I say, especially today.''
With last year's injuries and personal difficulties behind her, the sincerity of her comments could not be questioned.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
"If I would have thought then that I'd be standing on that stage (today), with that winning trophy, I don't think I would have believed it.''
Sharapova is undoubtedly mature beyond her 20 years, thanks in part to her winning her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon when she was just 17.
Asked if she might be still playing 10 years from now, she bristles at the thought.
"No, no, please record this,'' Sharapova said, smiling. "I think by that time, I hope that I will have a nice husband and a few kids.''
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