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Ex-champions hail Maria
- Best thing that could have happened to women’s tennis: Navratilova

Martina Navratilova has hailed the emergence of newly-crowned Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova as “the best thing” that could have happened to women’s tennis.

The Russian teenager defeated top seed Serena Williams in straight sets on Centre Court Saturday to claim her first Grand Slam title, and Navratilova — coincidentally making her final appearance at the All England Club — was impressed by the new champion.

“Obviously it’s great for her, but it’s great for women’s tennis,” said the nine-time Wimbledon singles champion. “It’s the best thing that could have happened to us really.”

The women’s game has come under fire for a perceived lack of depth in talent, with the Williams sisters and Belgian duo Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters dominating in recent years. But another Russian, Anastasia Myskina, won the French Open and now Sharapova is the new darling of SW19.

Navratilova, who won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 1978, added: “That’s where I started... it’s a good place to start winning a Grand Slam. It’s a fantastic achievement, especially the way she did it, really dominating Serena. It was amazing.

“What a talent. We saw it from the beginning, and she’s just been very focused on what she wanted to do, extremely committed to her cause, and she loves to play. That’s the best part, she wants to be out there, she doesn’t want to be anywhere else.

“Yes, she’s got a father who’s behind her. But she’s there because she wants to be there, not because he wants her to be there. It’s great to see her make it like this, it’s fantastic,” said Navratilova, whose exit from the women’s doubles on Saturday meant she failed to beat Billie Jean King’s record of 20 titles at Wimbledon.

Navratilova said she had seen the six-year-old Sharapova playing in an exhibition in Moscow. “However, I don’t remember her particularly. I wasn’t instrumental in her getting anywhere. Everybody knew that talent. I was just one of the people.”

Former Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade believes Sharapova has the right attitude to avoid following in the footsteps of Anna Kournikova, another Russian pin-up girl who never fulfilled her potential.

Wade, the last British winner of a singles title at Wimbledon in 1977, said: “She is so focused on the court and I don’t think she is going to be distracted. She looks to me like she wants to play tennis.”

Wade, too, believes Sharapova’s performance will have done a lot for the women’s game. “She is fun to watch,” Wade said. “She played so well. I don’t think Serena knew what hit her. Sharapova was on such a high and in the zone all match.

“Serena never really fired… she did not play terribly well and finally having so few tournaments caught up with her. May be, it will show Serena how much she wants to play tennis and get back on track,” Wade remarked.

Tracy Austin — herself a teenage sensation at the All England Club in 1977 — believes this will be the first of many Grand Slam titles for Sharapova. “She is not afraid of hard work and I don’t see what is going to stop her,” said the two-time US Open champion. “I think this is the first of many. She is very disciplined and wants to keep the injuries away. She will get stronger and better.”

Former men’s champion John McEnroe added: “It isunbelievable she could pull this off.”

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