MELBOURNE, Australia – Maria Sharapova’s acceptance speech was as well polished as her game at the Australian Open.
A year after being on the wrong end of one of the most-lopsided losses in a Grand Slam final, Sharapova wrapped up her third major title with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over fourth-seeded Ana Ivanovic on Saturday.
The 20-year-old Russian didn’t drop a set in seven matches at Melbourne Park, including wins over three of the top four ranked players, erasing 12 months worth of painful memories in the wake of her 6-1, 6-2 loss to Serena Williams last year.
After Ivanovic sprayed a forehand wide on match point, Sharapova dropped to her knees and appeared to be fighting back tears as she waved and blew kisses to the crowd.
Then she dropped her racket in her chair before heading to shake hands and exchange high-fives with her father and supporters.
She clasped her hands and swayed as she stood, waiting to receive the Daphne Akhurst Trophy, then told the Rod Laver Arena crowd that she’d received a text message from tennis great Billie Jean King telling her that ‘Champions take chances and pressure is a privilege.’
“I took mine,” Sharapova said.
Sharapova wished her mother, Yelena, a happy birthday and told her how she planned to spend some of her $1,207,790 prize money.
“With this big fat check, I’m going to send you a bunch of roses,” she said.
“I wasn’t even close to winning last year,” Sharapova said. “It’s incredible. If somebody would’ve told me during the middle of last year I’d be here I’d have said, ‘Forget it.’ “
Sharapova, seeded fifth, struggled with a shoulder injury last year and slipped from No. 1 to outside the top five. She rallied to make the final of the season-ending championship, losing in three long sets to top-ranked Justine Henin.
The Russian said when her coach and hitting partner Michael Joyce’s mother died, it helped her cope with the hard times.
Every time she went out to play or practice “Jane was the name we were thinking about,” Sharapova said. “I want to dedicate this win to her because after the loss (Joyce) suffered, I got a whole lot of perspective with my injuries and setbacks.”
Ivanovic is projected to rise to No. 2 in the rankings despite the loss, while Sharapova will remain at No. 5 when the new list is released next week.
Sharapova leads their head-to-head matches 3-2, avenging a straight-sets loss to the Serbian player in the French Open semis last year. Ivanovic, also 20, is 0-2 in Grand Slam finals after losing the French Open championship match to Henin.
Sharapova was aggressive from the start and, apart from one bad service game in the first set that allowed Ivanovic back to 4-4, controlled the important points against a Serbian player for the second straight match.
She beat No. 3 Jelena Jankovic in the semis after ending top-ranked Justine Henin’s 32-match win streak in the quarters.
Sharapova set up triple match point and waited patiently as Ivanovic saved two before the Russian could add to her titles at Wimbledon in 2004 and the 2006 U.S. Open.