Special delivery

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

The kid they call "Special K" wants to kick Maria Sharapova's "ass off."

She said that before losing 6-0, 6-1 to the much admired Sharapova at Wimbledon. She wasn't backing down yesterday, even though she was defeated by both herself and yet another Russian, Nadia Petrova, on centre court of the Canadian Open.

Sesil Karatantcheva, known on the tour as "Special K", is two years younger than Sidney Crosby, more fun, more colourful, more cocky, more comfortable, and with the supreme knowledge that one day the tennis world will be hers.

She hits a forehand like Steffi Graf, learned English -- although we can debate that -- by listening to a Spice Girls CD, sounds a lot like most girls who just turned 16, and yesterday came apart just long enough to put her age on display.

Her remorse was found in defeat but there was no remorse for what she had previously said about the tennis queen, Sharapova, whom she knows from the Nick Bollettieri school in Florida and clearly doesn't have time for.

"No I would (say) it again if I could," she said of her infamous quote about Sharapova, in which she voiced the opinion that she could, if they played, "kick her ass off."

"I don't know," said Karatantcheva, "I just think that whenever you say something that either is a mistake or not, it's already done. You shouldn't be sorry about it. You can't really turn back time.

"Saying you're sorry really isn't going to change the things you're saying ... So you just have to go with whatever you think and whatever you feel. I think that's the right thing to do."

Two years ago, at this very same tournament, in a different stadium, a 16-year-old Sharapova looked as though she should advance but couldn't find a way to win an early-round match. The following summer, she was Wimbledon champion.

That was about how Karatantcheva looked yesterday, without the stares and without the ogling. She should have finished off the highly skilled Petrova and moved on in the tournament. She was just too 16. Just like Sharapova was at the same age.

In fact, take away the makeup and the posters and fashion shoots, and there is much about Karatantcheva that is similar to Sharapova.

One grew up in Russia, the other in Bulgaria. Both left home for Florida at a young age to train with Bollettieri. Both travel on tour with their fathers, while their mothers stay home. Sharapova, absent this week with a legitimate injury, is nothing if not a fighter. Special K has the same kind of fight in her, maybe even more natural talent when it all comes out.

Now it's just a matter of time before she's kicking somebody's ass, if not Sharapova's.

"I'm feeling great in my game, but then after matches like (today) I realize there is so much more I have to learn," she said.

MUCH MORE TO LEARN

"The hard part is once you lose, you don't really know where to start from. That's why I guess you have family and coaches next to you to point you where you should start. I think I know everything. I feel the the best I could feel. When I lose like that, I kind of wonder what else more could (I do) out there. But I guess there is."

Of course there is, but it's hard for a 16-year-old to take it all in. She's left Bulgaria behind, is travelling the world, trying to be a kid and an athlete and an adult all at the same time.

"You know, a lot of places feel like home right now," she said. "Bulgaria is always going to be my home. I love America, really. I spend a lot of time here. I was in San Diego last month. I can say that I just felt like I was home. I had so much people around me, I don't know. I guess I'm always going to have two games, I still haven't decided which ones, though."

The betting is, it won't be anyone near Sharapova's neighbourhood.


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