Monday 23 April 2018

Steely Sharapova shrugs off 'unsporting' jibe

Maria Sharapova celebrates against Coco Vandeweghe on day Eight of the Wimbledon Championship
Maria Sharapova celebrates against Coco Vandeweghe on day Eight of the Wimbledon Championship

Oliver Brown

While Maria Sharapova's ice-maiden chic is central to her status as the world's highest-earning female athlete, those facing her across the net often feel alienated by her notorious hauteur.

Coco Vandeweghe, the kooky 23-year-old American vanquished 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 yesterday in her first encounter with the Russian, was no exception, accusing Sharapova of unsportsmanlike conduct by trying to distract her on serve.

At one stage Vandeweghe approached the umpire, Emmanuel Joseph of France, to complain that Sharapova was deliberately moving in an effort to put her off her second-serve motion.

When Joseph replied that he did not believe it was intentional, the Californian argued that he was frightened of antagonising the five-time major champion.

"I said if he had a problem speaking to Maria, if he was too scared to do it, then I would," Vandeweghe said.

"What I experienced, what I felt from her moving around in between my serves, was not sportsmanlike, in my opinion. I try to play as fair as I can. When I felt that it wasn't being reciprocated, that's when I spoke to the umpire."

Sharapova, who now faces a grudge-match semi-final against Serena Williams, swatted away the intimation of gamesmanship with her usual magisterial disdain.

"It is what it is," she said, a meaningless line favoured by her Nike stablemate Tiger Woods in similarly awkward situations. "I'm not going to argue against her words."

If she sounded ruffled, then this was because the 28-year-old had endured a baseline bombardment from Vandeweghe, forcing her to channel every drop of experience to advance to her fifth Wimbledon semi-final and kindle hope of a first title here since 2004.

At times Sharapova's screams were so piercing that they drowned out everything in the Heathrow flight path over SW19.

The sheer toil required in this victory reflected the frustrations of subduing an awkward, unconventional adversary.

Vandeweghe, who had not advanced beyond the third round of a major prior to this quarter-final, was finding the lines with a fearless self-assurance, bathing in the crowd's rapturous acclaim.

Ultimately, it was Sharapova's greater discipline, striking back at Vandeweghe after she had rallied to prevail in an unlikely second-set tie-break, which proved the decisive factor. Vandeweghe made too many unforced errors but derived every satisfaction from her baptism on this stage.

A player whose grandmother was Miss America in 1952 kept alive the family showbusiness tradition by whirling her arms to whip the crowd into a lather. For this was an audience firmly in the her corner, won over by her pluck and alienated by Sharapova's almighty din. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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