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Sharapova moves on to Tokyo after loss

Sharapova is six Grand Slams behind, having beaten Williams in the final at Wimbledon in 2004 and winning last year's US Open.

india Updated: Jan 28, 2007 16:26 IST

It's not how Maria Sharapova wanted to celebrate her elevation to No. 1 in the rankings - sitting on a plane to Tokyo on Sunday after being on the receiving end of one of the most lopsided results in a Grand Slam final.

The Sharapova that looked so dominating while winning last year's US Open in straight sets over Justine Henin-Hardenne had no answers onSaturday against a resurgent Serena Williams in the Australian Open, losing 6-1, 6-2 in just over an hour.

"I was trying to find a way to get in the rallies, trying somehow to find a way to get an opening, through a door," said Sharapova. "She came out and she really played flawless tennis."

"I wasn't getting frustrated or anything," she added. "I was just trying to tell myself, you can always find a way even if you're down a set and two breaks."

Sharapova, who will displace Henin-Hardenne officially as No. 1 on Monday, couldn't find a way to prevent Williams from winning her eighth singles major. Sharapova is six Grand Slams behind, having beaten Williams in the final at Wimbledon in 2004 and winning last year's US Open title.

"Two completely different stages of my career," Sharapova said when asked to compare her win over Williams at the All-England Club more than two years ago and Saturday's loss at Rod Laver Arena.

"At Wimbledon, I was going into every single match thinking that I should have been home already. As years have gone on, I feel like I expect to be in the later stages of the tournaments. I expect myself to be winning."

Sharapova, who turns 20 in April, started this year in Hong Kong, where the lost in the final of an exhibition tournament to Kim Clijsters. She beat Clijsters in the semifinals in Melbourne.

She'll move from the hardcourts at Melbourne Park to the indoor carpet at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, where the other entrants this week include Martina Hingis and Serbian teenager Jelena Jankovic.

There, she'll heed the advice of her mother, Yelena. "Unfortunately it was my mom's birthday and I couldn't win for her," said Sharapova.

"She always tells me, 'Look, you got a tournament next week. You got to focus on thatand you're going to look back on this and say this really taught me something, this only made me stronger'."

Her performance in Grand Slams last year helped raise her ranking from fourth at the start of 2006 to No. 2 at the end, including semifinals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the fourth round at the French Open and her win at Flushing Meadows.

She's done one better at the Australian Open already this year, allowing the ever-upbeat Sharapova to take a positive away from Melbourne.

"It's definitely not the end of the world," said Sharapova. "Got to the final of my first tournament this year. There's a lot to be proud of."

First Published: Jan 28, 2007 15:35 IST