As if a page gleefully ripped out from a glossy portfolio – and the props and the empty court, and the hair smoothened behind each ear

Maria Sharapova dropped to her knees, rocked forward onto the court and screamed with giddy teenage delight.

It was a moment she had envisioned, but the reaction seemed spontaneous, as if she had gleefully ripped out a page from her glossy portfolio.

Sharapova, 19, had thoroughly deconstructed Justine Henin-Hardenne, the five-time Grand Slam champion, by smashing overheads, serving timely aces and rifling balls deep into the corner.

She raced to see her father, Yuri Sharapov, in the stands. She returned to her courtside chair and called her mother. She danced to the music, reflecting on what just happened.

“When you go down on the ground, you just think of everything that you’ve put into this moment, and even though the moment is a very short time, you get to be on court with that trophy, it’s just so incredible,” Sharapova said.

Sharapova burst onto the tennis – and endorsement – scene by winning Wimbledon in 2004 at age 17. She’d come close to adding more major championships since but went 0-5 in Slam semifinals – until this tournament.
When Henin-Hardenne, a finalist at all four majors this year, slapped one last forehand into the net, Sharapova dropped to her knees and covered her face, then rose and trotted to shake hands. Then Sharapova hopped up and down, looking for the first time all night like any other teen.
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“The first thing that comes to mind when you go down in the ground, you think of everything you put into the moment,” she said.

“Not just preparation that happened two weeks before the tournament but preparation that goes back to when I was a little girl.

“You can’t buy a Grand Slam title. There are people around the world that have billions of dollars but no matter how much they want a US Open title, the only thing they can do is buy some good tennis rackets, the best trainers and work very hard.

This beats any sort of money, any sort of paper.”

But despite a career so manicured that even her water breaks are commanded by edict, she jumped so hard after lifting up the silver champion’s trophy that the lid popped off and tumbled to the ground. Then she leaned her head back and laughed with abandon like the teenager she is.

The Arthur Ashe Stadium sellout crowd was behind the 19-year-old Russian, who basked in the lights at the U.S. Open. When her 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 2 Justine Henin-Hardenne was complete, she gave another scream — this time for joy.

During her winner’s speech she thanked her father by saying, “I love daddy.” Either by accident or by design, at that moment the honorary third-base coach was on the Motorola phone his daughter endorses.

Sharapova again got signals from the team in her player box to indicate moments when she should eat and drink during the match. Anticipating questions about possible violations, she had a proclamation when she walked into the post-match press conference.

“Let’s make this a positive session please, por favor,” Sharapova said.

About two hours before the match began last night, Sharapova came out to practice serves. There she stood in a sweaty green shirt and gray leggings in front of 23,000 empty seats, with her father at her side with his trademark cardboard box of loose tennis balls.

The black dress, the fireworks, those are props. It all begins with the unglamorous moments firing serves into the empty court with no one watching.
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Almost everything Sharapova does seems languid except for her searing ground strokes. Her routine at the service line is the equivalent of a compulsive baseball player’s ritual at the plate: hop-hop and bounce, bounce, bounce; smooth hair slowly behind each ear; two more bounces; then toss and let fly.

Henin-Hardenne said that deliberate pace didn’t bother her.

“She has the right to take her time,” Henin-Hardenne said.


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