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It could have happened again. Maria Sharapova showed signs of a second consecutive letdown in the Australian Open final Friday night.
The 20-year-old, who managed to win just three games a year ago when she was dominated by Serena Williams in the grand slam final, committed three double faults to let Anna Ivanovic break her to tie the first set 4-4.
A few minutes later, Sharapova found herself down 5-4 and 0-30 — just two points from losing the first set. But instead of panicking, Sharapova gathered herself, got her serves in and won three straight games to take the set.
After a relatively breezy 6-3 second set, Sharapova had won her third grand slam to go with her Wimbledon and U.S. Open championships.
And as she told the Laver Arena crowd, neither she or Ivoanovic are done winning. By cruising through seven matches — all won in two sets - including a convincing quarterfinal win over No. 1 seed Justine Henin, Sharapova took the throne as the top female player in the world (regardless of what this week's rankings say).
A big reason for Sharapova's newfound success is her maturity.
She made an elegant championship speech, dedicating the win to her coach Michael Joyce's later mother, Jane Joyce. And she said that each time she takes the court, she thinks of Joyce.
Sharapova said that the loss of Joyce has given her perspective, kept her level-headed. This is not good news for Sharapova's opponents.
Her maturity was evident during that first set. After those three double faults, Sharapova had to be thinking about the 2007 Aussie Open. It is a memory she definitely hasn't forgotten. When reminded about it prior to her speech, she corrected the ceremony presenter that she hadn't just lost the match, she had been dominated.
But Sharapova's mind was right late in that crucial first set, even in the blistering Australian heat. She stopped committing double faults and proceeded to outlast the talented Ivanovic, another 20-year-old with a very bright future.
After Sharapova had completed her speech and accepted the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup trophy, one thing was transparent: Not only is she the richest female athlete in the world, she's also one of the most grown-up 20-year-old athletes in the world.
Combine that with her talent and all-around game — her net play the past two weeks was the best it's ever been — and there could be plenty more grand slams in her future.
Sharapova said that in the middle of 2007 she never could have imagined standing on the winner's podium Friday night. The past year was one of her more difficult. One in which she failed to win a grand slam and was victorious in just one tournament.
But the 2008 version of Maria Sharapova is a different player, a more mature player, a player with an entirely different view of life.
Sure, she still shrieks during points, much to the amusement of Ivonovic's fans — one held a sign that read "Quiet please Maria" — but her screams are in no way childish.
The are squeals of effort, intensity and dedication.
All coming from the best women's tennis player in the world.
For now, and possibly for the next few years to come.