Tue, Oct 24, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Speedy Sharapova blasts by Hantuchova in Zurich

ANNOYING A victorious Maria Sharapova once again faced irritating questions about on-court coaching after conferring legally with Mike Joyce


Maria Sharapova loves speed, fast cars and rollercoasters. She hates traffic and running on foot, or anything else that can slow her down.

So it really got her goat when she surged through an easy first set against Daniela Hantuchova in Sunday's final of the Zurich Open, but stalled in a sluggish, error-filled second set.

That raised the Russian's levels of frustration -- and aggression -- enough to spur her into quickly breaking Hantuchova in the final set to win 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 and earn her 14th career title, and fourth this year.

"I like it when things go fast," Sharapova said, shifting her seat at the post-match press conference, which she also seemed to hope would end quickly.

Especially when she was faced with the pesky question of why she'd frequently called on hitting partner Mike Joyce for advice during her matches here, after saying earlier in the week she doesn't support the idea of on-court coaching and would only resort to it if "desperate."

Zurich is one of the five tournaments this season where the WTA Tour is testing out the idea, but during breaks and only once a set.

"Well, I don't support it, but if it's there and I feel I need a little reminder then why not?" retorted Sharapova, who dropped only one set in Zurich. "If it isn't illegal, you may as well use it while you can."

Sharapova, whose coach and father Yuri has a history of trying to assist her from the stands, received a warning in her semi-final against Slovenian Katarina Srebotnik, when he shouted something from the sidelines.

At the US Open, where on-court coaching is forbidden, her father and Joyce sent apparent hand signals to her. After her second Grand Slam victory, Sharapova said they were reminders to drink fluids.

Oddly, Sharapova isn't desperate to end the season as the world No. 1 for the first time.

Sharapova first became No. 1 in August last year, and spent seven of the following eight weeks atop the rankings. She has a chance to end this season atop the rankings.

Amelie Mauresmo, who withdrew from the Zurich Open with a shoulder injury, and second-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne, who hasn't played since mid-September because of a knee problem, still head the rankings from the US Open champion.

Mauresmo leads Sharapova by 600 points, but many of the Frenchwoman's points will expire before this season ends.

To finish No. 1, Sharapova needs to win next week in Linz, Austria, and at the season-ending WTA Championships in Madrid, Spain, while hoping Henin-Hardenne fails to reach the WTA final.

Neither Henin-Hardenne nor Mauresmo are expected to play before Madrid.

"Becoming No. 1 is a huge achievement, but I don't personally think ending the season as No. 1 is a huge deal," Sharapova said. "I honestly can't remember who finished last year No. 1. You remember who won the Grand Slams and who has been No. 1, not who finished the year No. 1."

Roger Federer took courage from his breakthrough title in Spain after he crushed Chile's Fernando Gonzalez 7-5, 6-1, 6-0 to win his 10th trophy of a sparkling season on Sunday at the Madrid Masters.

The Swiss top seed claimed the 43rd title of his career and 12th at the Masters level, with his final two events before next month's season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai set at home in Basel next week to be followed by Paris Bercy.

The meticulous Federer came to Spain with a job to do -- and performed to perfection.

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