5:08PM Sharapova stumbles but optimistically looks toward future

By Art Spander
Special to

WIMBLEDON, England -- She was the star of the show three years back in New York.

Maria Sharapova won the U.S. Open and the timing was perfect -- Nike was running a commercial that featured her as a woman of means, with accompaniment by the song I Feel Pretty from Westside Story.

Yep, Sharapova is going home early again but her passion to improve is as strong as ever. (Getty Images)   These days the only music that fits Sharapova is the blues. She has learned the hard way about an athlete's vulnerability, that at any moment she can be betrayed by her body.

That, as we've heard so many times, you're only one injury away from the end of a career.

Sharapova's career is still going, but her stay at this year's Wimbledon is over. In what accurately can be described as a comeback, Sharapova hasn't come back far enough.

Given a gift seed of 24 because of her presence rather than her recent record, Sharapova was beaten Wednesday in the second round, 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, by Gisela Dulko of Argentina.

Tennis is a tough sport on young women. Virtually all the great ones of late -- Steffi Graf, Kim Clijsters, Lindsay Davenport, Serena Williams, all except the remarkable Martina Navratilova -- have been hurt. For Sharapova, who won this tournament, who won the Australian, who won the U.S., it was a rotator cuff tear in her right shoulder -- disaster for a right-hander.

She missed the Beijing Olympics. She missed the U.S. Open a couple of weeks later. She kept hoping the shoulder would heal, but it did not, and in October, like so many major league pitchers who have incurred the same injury, Sharapova underwent surgery.

Now she's undergoing the process of re-establishing herself, a complex process when you've been away for months, as was Sharapova. Now she not only needs to find the forehand, she needs to find the confidence.

"You just move forward," was Sharapova's philosophical comment about the loss. "This is not an overnight process. It's going to take time, as much time as it needs, as much time as I need on court to get everything together."

Time, that precious element. Football and basketball are governed by a clock. Teams run out of time. Athletes run out of time. Sharapova is only 24, but she has been playing for years. She used to look behind her at all the new faces entering the game. Now she must peer ahead, toward the players in front of her, toward the possible decline of her game.

This was only Sharapova's fourth event since rejoining the tour. Missing so many tournaments, she had fallen to 60th in the rankings but received a seeding because of her history.

Dulko, ranked 45th, had won just three games in two matches against Sharapova. But in this match, Dulko kept Sharapova off balance with drop shots, while Maria -- as would be natural for someone unable to play for a while -- struggled with the two essentials, the serve and the forehand.

Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004, but that seems a lifetime ago rather than five years. If understandably arrogant when she was on top of the sport, not only because of what she did on court but with the Canon and Nike promotions off the court, Sharapova seems humbled and chastened by her fall.

There was purity in her observations. She wasn't trying to fool the media. Or herself.

"I had so many easy balls, and I just made unforced errors from those," a candid Sharapova conceded. "I don't know if that's because I haven't played. You know, I've had those situations before, and those balls would be pieces of cake, but today they weren't. But it's OK."

Pieces of cake. An American idiom, presented by a Russian. Who in effect is an American. She's lived in Florida for 17 years and speaks flawless English, flawless in pronunciation, without any hint of an accent.

The injury, the recovery, the agonizing work of rebuilding have given Sharapova a new appreciation of many things, from trying to find perspective to finding joy in just hitting a tennis ball again.

"First of all, you think of injuries as basically preventing you from playing your sport," was her reflection. "But if you look at the bigger picture, there are so many things that can happen that can limit you to doing things in life or even having a life.

"If you put things in perspective when you get injured, yes, my career is a huge part of my life, and that's what I do on a daily basis. So is it frustrating when that goes away for a while? Absolutely. But if you have a good head on your shoulders, you know that there's a life to live."

Just being at Wimbledon, reminded Sharapova, is an accomplishment. When you can't compete for months and then are given the opportunity to appear in the most famous of tournaments, there is a certain satisfaction.

"I had the pleasure of playing on Centre Court again," she said. "I didn't play on it last year. Losses are tough, more here than any other tournament. But it's all right. I have many more years ahead of me."

The shoulder is fine now. It sounds as if the head is, too.

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© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.

SF Examiner: When Wimbledon gets a roof, the rain stays away

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — Manny Ramirez has nothing on this country, where one arrives to find a headline in the Times of London reading “Henderson guilty of doping ...”

He is the trainer of the Queen’s racehorse Moonlit Path.

What goes on out there? Manny? A-Rod? And now Moonlit Path, who failed a drug test in February?

Does the mare get a 50-day suspension?

A strange world sports has become. The U.S. Open in New York turns into a rainy mess and then offers up a surprise winner when Lucas Glover holds off Phil Mickelson and David Duval.

Over here, where there’s a new retractable roof over Wimbledon’s Centre Court to keep out the rain, it’s warm and sunny.

“The roof looks really nice,” said Venus Williams, who Tuesday looked very good herself, with an opening-match win over Stephanie Voegele of Switzerland, 6-3, 6-2.

“The sun’s been shining,” Venus affirmed. “We haven’t had to use the roof yet. It’s kind of ironic. But I’m sure it will get some use.”

Undoubtedly. They’ve had some notoriously bad weather at Wimbledon in the roughly 130 years the tournament has been held, occasionally consecutive days without tennis or afternoons when only one match was finished.

Andy Roddick followed Venus onto Centre Court and needed four sets to get by Jeremy Chardy, 6-3, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3. He said he barely was aware of the roof, which was pushed together like a closed accordion at one end of the superstructure.

“You don’t notice that much,” Roddick said. “I hadn’t seen it before I walked out. They did a good job. It’s not this big, imposing thing.”

As is television, at least figuratively. Television, the networks, in effect forced Wimbledon to construct the roof. The decision came painfully.

They don’t like a lot of change in Britain. Hey, if it was good enough for Henry VIII, then why tinker with success?

Unless, TV figuratively raises another roof because it has to show that 1980 Borg-McEnroe 18-16 fourth-set tiebreaker a 42nd time because there’s no live tennis. So, Wimbledon has its roof.

What Venus has is five women’s singles championships, the last three in succession. It was 15 years ago at what then was called Oakland Coliseum Arena, Williams, a teenager from Compton with white beads in her hair, made her professional entrance.

“I remember,” Venus said. “I was so excited. Just growing up, my parents always told us we’d be winning Wimbledon. ... It was something I was preparing for. I think they were geniuses to put that in our heads.”

Roddick hasn’t won it. He twice reached the finals but had the misfortune to meet Roger Federer, in tennis, a genius in his own right. Maybe, now at age 26, Roddick, once trained by Brad Gilbert of Marin, makes it to the summit. When someone asked him to sum up his chances, Andy said, “Better now that I got through the first one.”

Venus, too, is through the first one.

“It was pretty straight forward,” she said of the victory.

Venus turned 29 last week. Wimbledon is her great stage. “I obviously feel very good here,” she said with no real explanation, “and I take advantage of that feeling.”

I wonder how Moonlit Path is feeling these days? Probably thought she was given flaxseed oil.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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Copyright 2009 SF Newspaper Company
4:14PM Murphy's Law for Wimbledon: New roof keeps rain away

By Art Spander
The Sports Xchange/

WIMBLEDON, England -- The Championship is an outdoor daytime event. That's the gospel according to the people in charge of Wimbledon. That's why the new toy has gone unused.

That's why the roof they didn't want to build remains open.

What's Wimbledon but grass courts, strawberries and cream and rain? Except the first two days of Wimbledon 2009, the skies have been cloudless. Of course. They spend $170 million, give or take a brass farthing, to raise the roof, a translucent, accordion-like device, and it stays open.

The roof sits there. "But," said Venus Williams, "I'm sure it will get some use."

We're all mixed up. The U.S. Open golf tournament last weekend in New York was hit by so many storms, the Bethpage Black course looked like Long Island Sound. Meanwhile here, at the place nicknamed "Wimbleduck" and "Swimbledon," people are hoping for a few drops just to see the roof.

They had to settle for watching tennis on Tuesday, and for America it was successful tennis, Venus and Andy Roddick taking their opening matches.

Venus, trying for her sixth singles championship and third in a row, easily defeated Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland in straight sets. Roddick, seeking his first, beat Jeremy Chardy of France in four sets.

There's a sense of history all over England. If it was done one way for, say, 300 years, then why change? Wimbledon's been around for a little less than half that, but the philosophy isn't much different.

One appallingly bad afternoon, when the guys who pull the tarps -- or, as they're called here, "the covers" -- spent more time on Centre Court than Pete Sampras, the question was put forth why, in this technological age, a roof couldn't be built.

The answer had as much to do with condensation of moisture on the grass, when a roof was closed after the beginning of a storm, as the price and design. "Do you know how greasy a court would be?" was the summarizing phrase.

Well, the TV networks knew what a waste of time, and money, rain delays would be and had been. So, finally, after years of discussion and almost as many of construction, The Roof is in place. But not in use.

"Yeah," said Venus, "it looks really nice, the roof does, actually. But the sun's been shining. We haven't had to use it yet. It's kind of ironic."

Roddick, smartly, paid more attention to what was going on in front of him than what wasn't going on above him.

"To be honest, you don't notice it at all," he said of the roof. Maybe he didn't, but most others did. The roof, like the axiom of the weather, was something everybody talked about but couldn't do anything about.

"I hadn't seen [the roof] before I walked out," said Roddick, who is two months from his 27th birthday and has one Grand Slam championship, a U.S. Open, and has been to two Wimbledon finals. "It's not a big, imposing thing. I think they did a good job of kind of blending it in with the original surroundings.

"Not much has changed from a player's perspective. I'm sure it will be different once it's closed."

It will be different because instead of players in the feature matches sitting around in the locker room and ESPN and NBC executives chewing on their cuticles and fans who paid big money telling themselves they should have gone to a movie -- er, a cinema -- people will be playing tennis.

As they were Tuesday, when the temperature was in the 70s and Wimbledon was a circus of sights and sounds, matches under way on all 19 courts.

Venus called her victory over Voegele, who ranks 97th, "pretty straightforward. In other words, no problems. Venus is seeded No. 3, behind sister Serena, who's No. 2, and Dinara Safina, No. 1 even without a Grand Slam title.

"It's a special moment when you walk out as defending champion on that court and throw those balls at that first point," Venus said. "It's a really great feeling."

The other defending champion, Rafael Nadal, is out of the tournament because of bad knees, which meant Roger Federer, the man he beat in the 2008 final that seemingly lasted forever because of recurring rain, had that special moment on Monday.

After the win, Federer, hardly the adventurous type, conceded, "I guess the moment will come that I'll play indoors here. But you don't really hope for it during the match."

Why not? He could become Wimbledon's first indoor champ.

Andy Murray, the Scot attempting to be the first Brit to win the men's title since 1936, won his first-round match in four sets over American Robert Kendrick.

A few days ago when Wimbledon brought in the media to see the roof open and closed, Murray also was in attendance. Naturally, he was asked his opinion.

"It looks really nice," he said, "compared to most roofs."

Especially compared to all the roofs they previously had at Centre Court, a total of none.

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© 2009 CBS Interactive. All rights reserved.

RealClearSports: For Tiger, the Hardest Major of the Year

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. -- He liked his chances, as did the rest of us, a following that included the man he someday should supplant as the game's standard.

"I suspect,'' Jack Nicklaus had mused, alluding to Tiger Woods' 14 major championships, "that No. 15 will come in two weeks.''

Jack was speaking after Tiger won Nicklaus' own tournament, the Memorial. After Tiger never missed a fairway the last round. After Tiger seemingly verified he was ready to take this calamitous U.S. Open at Bethpage.

And even Tiger, properly favoring himself, told us, "I like my chances in any major.''

Yet as the 109th Open, a tournament with more suspensions than suspense, slogged through to a merciless conclusion at the course nicknamed "Wetpage,'' Tiger's chances were gone.

With the Open spilling over into Monday, it wasn't clear who would win: maybe Ricky Barnes, whose huge lead of Sunday afternoon had disappeared; maybe Lucas Glover, who had come from six shots back to tie Barnes; maybe even David Duval.

It was clear who wouldn't win, Tiger Woods.

Once again, a year after taking the championship, he took a figurative punch to the jaw. He couldn't repeat in 2001 or 2003. He couldn't repeat in 2009.

Even though we thought he would. Even though he thought he could, if with a caveat.

Not for 20 years has anyone won Opens back-to-back.

Not Nicklaus, not Payne Stewart, Lee Janzen or Andy North, although along with Tiger and Jack they did win more than one Open.

Since Ben Hogan, in 1950-51, a stretch of 58 years, only Curtis Strange in 1988-89 has taken Opens consecutively, an achievement he not so humbly embellished with the pronouncement, "Move over, Ben.''

Tiger was in the wrong place, the early starting wave on Thursday, at the wrong time, when the first of several storms powered in and, with Woods and playing partners Padraig Harrington on the seventh green, halted play until Friday.

The golfers who didn't get on course until the second day and then got in most of two rounds were those who got the good break.

Rub of the green, it's called in golf. And the green rubbed Woods very much the wrong way.

He got shafted by Mother Nature. Then he got in trouble. When Tiger returned on Friday, he was even par with four holes to play. And four-over par after those four holes. Balls dropped into the rough. Putts slid by the cup.

It was a precursor. And a reminder.

"This is the hardest major we face,'' said Woods, "year in, year out. Narrowest fairways, highest rough. You have to have every facet of your game going.''

Nicklaus played more than 40 Opens. He won four. Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson won one apiece. Greg Norman never won any. The hardest major they face.

Heading into the final round, Tiger was at 1-over par 211 for 54 holes. Nine shots behind Ricky Barnes. Tiger's game wasn't going anywhere, although by the time play stopped, Woods having completed seven holes of the last round, he was even par. And seven shots back of Barnes and Glover.

"All week,'' said Woods on Sunday, "I hit it better than my scoring indicates. My finish the first day put me so far back, I had to try and make up shots the entire time. I finished that day playing poorly.''

No one finished anything Sunday, when play was called because of darkness. This is the pain of sport. This is the wonder of sport. We never know.

Rafael Nadal didn't win the French Open, even though we believed he would. Tiger Woods won't win the U.S. Open, even though we believed he would. You've heard it so many times, and you'll hear it again: That's why they play the game.

There's something reassuring in all this, not that Tiger was unable to meet expectations, but that sitting around and forecasting winners doesn't mean a great deal. The people on the courses and courts and diamonds are the ones who have the real say.

Tiger and Phil Mickelson and Ricky Barnes come back next week, and the probability is that everything is different. But they're not coming back. They had their chances. Barnes was making the best of his. Tiger couldn't do the same.

When after the third round somebody, dreaming, asked in effect if Tiger could overtake the leaders.

"Bethpage,'' said Woods who won here in 2002, "is one of those courses where you have to play a great round and get some help.''

Throughout this Open, Tiger had neither.
As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And he has recently been honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

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© RealClearSports 2009

Scotland Sunday Herald: Barnes surfaces after years of expectation

GOLF: Former amateur prodigy profits as washout engulfs rivals, writes Art Spander

PUTTS WERE falling, and again so were raindrops. The wettest, messiest and most confusing of US Opens kept splashing on yesterday towards an ending that would be neither expected nor timely.

A kid named Ricky Barnes, from whom greatness was predicted but hasn't been achieved, was the leader after a second round not completed until a third day. If you're mixed up, so is everyone.

Round two of a tourn-ament that began of a sort on Thursday was only headed to a finish yesterday. But when this 109th Open, being played at Bethpage's Black Course on Long Island some 30 miles east of Manhattan, actually ends is anyone's guess. The plan was to get those who made the cut back on the course to begin the third round before the thunderstorms or darkness, whichever came first, and then with luck complete it today.

Officials insisted, meanwhile, that a champion wouldn't be determined until a full 72 holes -- and maybe an 18-hole play-off were there a tie -- had been played "even if we have to go to Tuesday."

The good thing for the basic, boisterous New York crowd, was that Tiger Woods would go the full tournament. He arrived yesterday morning 12 shots behind Barnes, at four-over, and in danger of missing the cut in a Major for only the second time as a pro.

But Tiger, whose opening round consisted of six holes on Thursday, and another 12 on Friday, shot a one-under 69 yesterday for a three-over total of 143 to stay in the tournament, if not in contention. As a point of reference, the greatest halfway deficit overcome by a winner was Lou Graham, who was down by 11 in 1975 and then won in a play-off over John Mahaffey.

Woods, trying to be the first repeat US Open winner since Curtis Strange in 1988-89, was in the group with Open and PGA champion Padraig Harrington and Masters winner Angel Cabrera. Harrington, who had three double bogeys in his first round, shot 76 for 152 to miss the cut, while Cabrera posted a 69 in his second round for 143, the same as Tiger.

Barnes, with a US Open 36-hole record score of 132, after a second round of 65, leads Lucas Glover, who shot 64 for 133 and third-placed Mike Weir, whose 70 left him a shot further back.

Phil Mickelson, performing admirably as he attempts to deal with the news of his wife Amy's illness, shot a level-par 70 to finish on 139. It could be said, though, that all the leaders got the luck of the draw, having played their entire first rounds and much of the second in sunshine on Friday, and then finished the second in benign conditions yesterday morning.

It was the rub of the green -- Tiger's threesome was in the other wave, the one that did get pounded by rain on Thursday before play was abandoned for the day. Barnes, 28, won the US Amateur Championship in 2002 and in 2003 was, at the University of Arizona, college player of the year and also finished 21st in the Masters. But he couldn't qualify for the PGA Tour, playing the secondary Nationwide Tour where last year he did well enough finally to get elevated to the big time.

"It got me ready to play,'' said Barnes, from Stockton, California. "And it humbled me over the last four years. I've grown up. I always thought after college I'd be out here right away."

Barnes, who had seven holes remaining in his second round when he arrived yesterday, hit 31 of 36 greens. His eight-under 132 was a shot better than the mark set in 2003 at Olympia Fields in Chicago by Jim Furyk, who went on to win.

"Obviously, at the start of the week,'' said Barnes, "you don't think that score is out there. But my ball-striking was outstanding. But if you would have told me I'd be eight under and only have a one-shot lead I'd have said you're crazy.'' Mickelson is the favourite son of these New Yorkers, who cheer him on like a football crowd. That his wife Amy has been stricken by breast cancer has only endeared Phil even more to the fans. "I love it here," he said. "If I can get my putter going the last two rounds I like my chances."

David Duval, who won the 2001 Open championship at Royal Lytham, sits on 137. In 13 tournaments this year he hasn't finished better than a tie for 55th.

Sergio Garcia, who played well at Bethpage in 2002, added a second consecutive 70 and Todd Hamilton, who suddenly has found his game after doing nothing since winning the Open at Royal Troon in 2004, is on 138 after a 71.

Scotland's Martin Laird just missed the cut after posting a 71 for 145.

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©2009 newsquest (sunday herald) limited. all rights reserved