When she strode onto Wimbledon's Centre Court for Saturday's championship, 17-year-old Maria Sharapova didn't think about competing for the sport's most prestigious title. She didn't think about her formidable opponent, two-time champion Serena Williams, either.
She simply concentrated on herself and her strokes, then proceeded to wallop the queen of grass-court tennis, 6-1, 6-4, to become the first Russian and third-youngest Wimbledon champion in history.
"I knew that the power was within me," Sharapova said later, "and that if I put my mind to something, I would do it."
Spectators cheered Sharapova's powerfully angled groundstrokes and potent service returns, and past champion Virginia Wade gushed over her fluid movement and masterful lobs. But it was the teenager's steely resolve, more than anything, that kept Williams from claiming her third consecutive Wimbledon title.
With six Grand Slam titles to her credit, Williams has long been known as the game's most powerful hitter and most determined competitor. Yet as she sorted through the factors behind her stunning defeat, Williams pointed her most accusatory finger at her own attitude entering the tournament.
"I think I put too much stress on myself going into it," Williams said in her postmatch interview. "I really wanted to win more than anything. I was so focused the night before, the day before -- I mean, a week before. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself."
Sharapova's straight-set victory was immediately hailed as the antidote for what ails women's tennis, which has suffered from burnout, boredom and injury among an already narrow constellation of stars. Sharapova's championship march at Wimbledon, which has been chronicled by a fawning media that clamors to know how she feels about being a pinup and whether she has a boyfriend, has minted a sorely needed new star for the sport.
But for Williams, who along with her elder sister, Venus, revived interest in the game over the past five years, Sharapova's victory is cause for introspection. As Wade put it during postmatch commentary on the British Broadcasting Corporation, "Will it show Serena how much she wants to stay on top?"
Sharapova came out slugging Saturday, holding serve against the game's best returner with ease. She broke Williams in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead and kept the defending champion off-balance by firing deep groundstrokes into the corners.
Confident from the start, the 13th-seeded Sharapova grew bolder with each game, not awed by the stage or the stature of the champion glaring back at her across the net. She pounced on Williams's short second serves, ripping the ball back at irretrievable angles. And she barely reined in her own second serve, smacking one at 103 mph.
Serving for the first set at 5-1, Sharapova fended off three break points and kept slugging away until the error-prone Williams netted a backhand.
If Williams was counting on Sharapova's nerves to kick in during the second set, the youngster dashed the hope quickly. She fired her first ace and made a rare charge to the net for a winning volley to knot the score at one game. Then, with Williams following her own serve to the net, Sharapova drilled a ball at her nose.
Williams broke her to go ahead 4-2, but Sharapova broke back and pulled even at four games. The ninth game was the best of the match, featuring a pair of blistering backhand service returns by Sharapova.
Facing two break points, Williams clawed back into the game with big serves. As Williams attacked, Sharapova conjured up a lob winner that shifted the momentum again and finally broke serve to take a 5-4 lead.
The championship in reach, Sharapova kept her nerves at bay to serve out the match.
Williams was gracious in defeat, coming around the net post to congratulate a dazed Sharapova. Just five years ago, she won her first Grand Slam title at 17, defeating Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), at the U.S. Open.
"I was really happy for her because I know that feeling and that moment," Williams said. "There's no better feeling than that."
And then there is the feeling Williams was left with after the photos were snapped and the awards handed out on Centre Court.
"For me, it's not good enough," Williams said, asked if she felt some degree of satisfaction for advancing to the final after the first extended layoff of her career. "It's something I don't enjoy. I can't sit here and lie about it. I don't enjoy to lose."