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Monday, June 23, 2008
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The Championships Wimbledon

Wimbledon starts today

Everyone wants a 'battle of the babes'

Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova are determined to prove that their ruthless tennis packs just as much power as their supermodel looks at this year's Wimbledon.

The two pin-ups of the women's tour, with four Grand Slam titles between them and lengthy multi-million dollar endorsement lists, are seeded to meet in what, for sponsors, fans and the British tabloids, would be the dream final, a battle of the babes.

But Ivanovic, the new world number one and French Open champion, and Sharapova, the 2004 winner here, insist they will not get carried away by the hype over the next two weeks at the All England Club.

Both are focussed on graft, not glamour.

"Just because my game suits grass or just because I feel comfortable on it doesn't mean that a win is going to come easy," said Sharapova.

"There are a lot of big competitors in the draw, different types of players."

Ivanovic, who deposed Sharapova as the world's top player at Roland Garros, believes she also has the game to thrive.

"Grass is a very specific surface. Everything is happening much faster. You have to be much more alert," said the 20-year-old Serbian, who lost to eventual champion Venus Williams in the semifinals in 2007.

"I think I have very powerful shot, but there are some things I have to improve. I'm trying to come forward more, play some volleys, which is very helpful here."

Whoever triumphs will find their bank balance swelling even further.

Ivanovic has earned just over five million dollars in her career so far, a figure dwarfed by the Russian's 12 million.

But a victory here on July 5 will surely boost the army of corporate callers desperate for an endorsement from the dusky Serbian with the girl-next-door charm.

When Sharapova won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004, her bank account swelled virtually overnight and, with an estimated 23 million dollars in off-court earnings alone, she is comfortably the world's richest sportswoman.

A Sharapova-Ivanovic final would also provide a fascinating contrast in personalities between Ivanovic, with her permanently sunny optimism, and Sharapova's steely determination.

Both have an ingrained competitive streak forged from the harshness of their childhoods.

Sharapova famously left her mother behind in Russia to make the grade in Florida while Ivanovic practised tennis in an abandoned swimming pool during lulls in the NATO bombing of Belgrade before leaving for Germany.

Sharapova, who beat Ivanovic in the Australian Open final in January for her third Grand Slam title, has not returned to a Wimbledon final since her 2004 triumph over Serena Williams.

She was a semifinalist in 2005 and 2006 and a fourth round loser to eventual champion Venus Williams last year.

The Russian starts with a first round clash against France's Stephanie Foretz while Ivanovic faces Rossana De los Rios of Paraguary.

Ivanovic's fellow Serbian, Jelena Jankovic, is now the world number two but has never got beyond the fourth round at Wimbledon while Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova, a former US Open champion, can only boast a quarter-final place.

That leaves the intimidating presence of the Williams sisters one of whom at least has featured in seven of the last eight finals.

In 2007, Venus surprised many observers, and probably herself, by winning a fourth singles title and making history as the lowest seeded player (23) to take the trophy.

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