Russia Hails Sharapova As Sports Savior

Monday, July 5th 2004, 12:56 pm
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russian newspapers on Monday hailed Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova as ``Queen of England'' and the savior of Russia's sports reputation after the soccer team's dismal showing at the European Championships.

Her Saturday defeat of Serena Williams was the prime front-page news in the newspaper Sovietsky Sport, with the Euro 2004 final between Greece and Portugal played small at the bottom despite Russia's intense interest in soccer.

``Ave Maria, Ole Russia,'' the headline intoned, invoking the soccer cheer that Russians had little chance to use this year.

Sport-Ekspress gave the soccer story more text, but only below a 4-inch blare of boldface reading ``Sharapova.''

``The tennis player who has lived half of her 17 years in America, won Russia its first Wimbledon,'' the newspaper noted.

Sharapova moved to Florida from her Siberian birthplace, but that apparently hasn't discouraged Russians from regarding her as one of their own _ a new entry in Russia's long list of sports standouts.

The newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets hinted at a revival of the political superpower status that vanished with the Soviet Union's collapse. A front-page headline punning on the similarity of the Russian words for ``missile'' and ``racket,'' referred to Sharapova as one of the ``Intercontinental rackets protecting the honor of Russia from its soccer players.''

This was Russia's second major tennis triumph in a month: Anastasia Myskina won the French Open in June, defeating countrywoman Elena Dementieva.

Komsomolskaya Pravda also played up the power angle, showing a photo of Sharapova shouting victoriously with an inset of Williams lying with a grimace on the grass court after lunging for one of the Russian's shots.

``Maria suggested Serena Williams take a rest for the next year,'' the photo caption read.

Even the sober-sided government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta gave Sharapova front-page attention, calling her victory ``a sensation.''