Featured Photo – Maria Sharapova, March 2002
This featured photo is actually a series of three photos I shot (scroll down to see the other two) of 14 year old Maria Sharapova winning the 2002 Target Cup at the Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne, Florida. I like these shots because you can see and feel her pure joy and excitement in winning the tournament title. The win earned her a wildcard entry into the 2003 Nasdaq-100 open draw.
In 2002, the newly named Nasdaq-100 Open in Key Biscayne, Florida put on a small junior tournament—the Target Cup—during the event’s second week. It was a good idea, since by the second week the outer courts were rather quiet and it exposed the these talented junior players to a large tennis audience. The tournament invited 12 of the top boys and girls players to the event, granting byes to the top four seeds.
I had watched a few of these juniors compete during the Orange Bowl tournament the year before, and I was impressed with their level of play. I had read a few articles about a young Bollettieri Academy junior named Maria Sharapova, but had never seen her play in person. Just a few weeks earlier, Maria had played her first WTA tour event in Indian Wells (as a wildcard), winning her first round match before falling to Monica Seles in the second round.
The first time I saw Maria was on an outer practice court, where she was hitting with a few of the other juniors. Watching her practice, I was immediately impressed with both her power and intensity. For a junior, she had a fairly large entourage and it was clear that her team believed that Maria was something special.
Maria was granted the (4) seed in the tournament [ behind (1) Gisella Dulko, (2) Ashley Harkleroad, (3) Bethanie Mattek] and given a bye in the first round.
In the quarterfinals, Maria defeated Tatiana Golovin 7-5, 6-3 after being down 0-4 in the first set and 0-3 in the second. It was the first time I witnessed Maria’s incredible fight, determination and shot making ability. I had never seen a junior player (and not many pros) with such grit, combined with an uncanny ability to hit the big shot in the big moments. In the semifinals Maria defeated Ashley Harkleroad, who was touted as America’s next great rising star, 6-1, 6-4.
A small, but enthusiastic crowd, watched the girl’s final on an outer show court featuring Maria vs. (1) seed Gisela Dulko. The action was riveting, as the pair split the first two sets—with both sets going to tie breakers. In the end, Maria’s sheer determination and will carried her to the title, 7-6(4), 6-7(1),7-5. I captured her reaction to the win in these three featured images. She was so excited and the win seemed to mean so much to her. It was very apparent how fierce a competitor she was, and equally easy to see the potential future star power of Maria.
(Shot with Kodak Royal Gold 200, Nikon N80, Nikon 70-300 5.6. Original negative scanned on a Nikon CoolScan 5000.) – Chris