No problems with Maria

Maria Sharapova waves to the crowd while celebrating her win over Bojana Jovanovski Wednesday night...

Maria Sharapova waves to the crowd while celebrating her win over Bojana Jovanovski Wednesday night during the Rogers Cup at the Rexall Centre in Toronto, Ont. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

TORONTO - It isnít polite to stare but when it comes to Maria Sharapova, sometimes you just canít help yourself.

Itís isnít just the look. Itís the power. Itís the pacing. Itís the precision. Itís the noise. And itís what you canít always see ó the heart that never stops fighting.

This is all part of the package, part of the still growing arsenal of the what still might be the worldís most popular female athlete.

ďI love you Maria,Ē someone yelled from the stands at the Rexall Centre, at the end of her 6-1, 7-5 win over qualifier Bojana Jovanovski. The words echoing what many in the stands clearly felt.

ďYou donít have to yell,Ē said Sharapova, in mid interview sentence, smiling. ďIím right here.

Indeed she was right here. Right to the end. Many of the Sharapovas were on display for one night of great, dramatic, erratic and windy tennis.

There was Sharapova the dominant, Sharapova the battler, Sharapova the veteran, Sharapova the eventual victor.

This has been a Rogers Cup tournament that has seen the No. 1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki, bow out, and the No. 2 seed, Kim Clijsters, pull out, and one by one the advertisments on the wall seem to be coming apart. But not Sharapova, who could have been beaten Wednesday night.

She romped in 24 minutes to win the opening set against Jovanovski on a wintry summer night at York University, only to scrap, battle, lose serve, lose serve again, lose her pace and her momentum, only to come back and do the Sharapova thing: Forget the legs, the blonde hair. All that seems external and obvious: Inside this sculpted tennis player is a fighter who just wonít give up.

And for Toronto, this is great news, even on a night when the foolishness of combining menís and womenís tournaments seemed paramount. In Toronto, Sharapova fought tooth and nail to take out Jovanovski, who was so wobbly off the start she barely won a point in the first set and stilll deserved to win the second set. At the same time, Rafael Nadal was playing in Montreal and having a similar kind of difficulty with someone named Ivan Dodig.

A tennis fan could watch one or the other ó but not both.

And how this is growing the game is beyond me.

The good news in Toronto is that itís starting to look as though Sharapova and Serena Williams are on a collision course and headed up for a possible semifinal matchup. Really, you canít ask for much more than that.

They are still, Wozniacki and Clijsters aside, the draws here, never mind Sharapovaís fifth-seed position and the fact Williams isnít seeded at all. And itís not out of the realm of possibility that Sharapova can meet Petra Kvitova, who she lost to in the Wimbledon final, and if youíve got a repeat of Wimbledon here, that canít be all bad.

But the crowd would prefer to see Sharapova advance all the way to Sunday.

In a way she has grown up playing this tournament. She won Wimbledon as a kid of 17 and dazzled Toronto at just about the same time. She is no kid anymore ó a woman of 24 ó all grown with a large diamond ring on her left hand indicating just how much she has grown up. She doesnít giggle like she used to, seems more serious, and the command of her game seems all the more mature.

Like so many tennis players, she has been great and dominant and then injured and having to find a way to fight back. Her ability to battle on the court is well documented. But now itís clear, she has made it through the same kind of fight off the court, bringing her injured shoulder back to the kind of powerful form that was on display on a blustery Wednesday night, where a first set without drama turned into a nail-biting second set.

All of it played under the least opportune of conditions, with a 22 km wind howling at York U, which may have accounted for the six consecutive service games lost in the second set. Sharapova fought back defeating Jovanovski and the wind to advance.

The nightís work should have been easy but instead she survived. The fact she did tells more about Sharapova than any photograph can.


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