Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates her win over Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne in the women's final match at the US Open tennis tournament in New York, September 9, 2006. [Reuters]
New York - Maria Sharapova insists she's more about substance than style, and now she has a second Grand Slam title to prove it. Her strokes as piercing as her shrieks by the end, the third-seeded Sharapova beat No. 2 Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-4, 6-4 Saturday night to win the US Open final.
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.
She climbed into the stands, losing her way briefly until being helped by an usher, for hugs with her father and her hitting partner, who've been sending her signals during matches about when to drink water or eat bananas.
But Sharapova needed very little help on court against Henin-Hardenne, a five-time major champion who would have returned to No. 1 in the rankings with a victory.
In the men's final Sunday, No. 1 Roger Federer will be bidding for his ninth career Grand Slam title when he takes on No. 9 Andy Roddick, aiming for his second.
In contrast to Henin-Hardenne, in more traditional tennis attire topped by a white ballcap, Sharapova wore her night-match getup, a black, cocktail dress-type number replete with a sparkled collar, accessorized with silver shoes and dangling earrings. Sharapova says the look is inspired by "Breakfast at Tiffany's," but the guess here is Audrey Hepburn never had a sponsor's swoosh on her outfit.
Sharapova makes about $20 million a year from endorsement deals, and she signed a "lifetime" contract with her racket maker shortly before the US Open began.
In the final's second game, a man's voice came from the sellout crowd of 23,712, screaming the tag line from Sharapova's oft-played current TV ad: "I feel pretty!"
In the commercial, that tune is sung by various people as Sharapova walks out onto court for a match. The punch line: Sharapova swings her racket and lets out one of her trademark shrieks.
Those high-pitched screams were muted at the start of the match, but within a few games, Sharapova was wailing as loudly as ever. Not that Henin-Hardenne was silent, punctuating points won by letting out, "Allez!"
Sharapova won the coin toss and elected to receive, then went out and stood right at the baseline while Henin-Hardenne hit practice serves at the end of the warmup session. Picture Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter getting to take batting practice against Red Sox starter Curt Schilling, it just doesn't happen in other sports.
Perhaps Sharapova noticed something, because she immediately earned two break points in the match's opening game. Henin-Hardenne saved both, then broke for a 2-0 edge with the aid of two double-faults by Sharapova.
But Sharapova broke right back, one free point came on a double-fault, and in the process came up with the shot of the evening: a half-volley drop winner to close a 10-stroke exchange.
After her own early loss of serve, Sharapova buckled down in that regard: She didn't face a break point the rest of the match.
Pretty impressive against a player of Henin-Hardenne's caliber. The Belgian entered the night leading all women in matches won (54), Grand Slam matches won (25) and tournament titles (five).
Henin-Hardenne finally succumbed to Sharapova's power and relentless shotmaking. At 3-3 in the third set came the final, key break of serve, after Henin-Hardenne led 40-15. She missed two backhands and double-faulted; after saving one break point, she set up another by sailing a forehand long. Under pressure from Sharapova's groundstrokes, Henin-Hardenne dumped a forehand into the net, making it 4-3. Sharapova yelled "Come on!" and jogged to the changeover.
"Come on!" from someone born in Siberia? Well, Sharapova has made her home in Florida since she was 7. After trying to call someone with her cellphone while waiting for the trophy ceremony, Sharapova leaned forward in her chair and said, "This is crazy!"