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Youth Movement Full of Promise

Confident teenagers have advanced in Wimbledon to play such veterans as Davenport and Williams.

June 29, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England — They are women of the world, these confident teenagers with their sunny hair and sunny personalities who are taking Wimbledon by storm.

Tatiana Golovin wears shorts that don't cover her bellybutton or most of her thighs and a cropped top that shows off her flat, 16-year-old stomach. She was born in Russia, was raised in France and spent seven years learning tennis in Florida. She can hardly wait to play top-seeded defending champion Serena Williams today.

Maria Sharapova, 17, won a grass-court warmup tournament and proclaimed herself ready to win Wimbledon. Since Sharapova wears her blond hair in a ponytail and she is Russian and her family brought her to the United States with almost their last cash, and since her long legs are tan, she is compared to Anna Kournikova. But Sharapova wins tournaments.

Karolina Sprem, 19, falls while chasing a curving forehand hit by Maggie Maleeva and her tiny skirt flips up, revealing tiny white shorts. A bit of her tummy shows in a cut-out part of her dress. More long, blond hair and here's another teenager full of confidence in her game and her body. No, Sprem says, she is not surprised she upset third-seeded Venus Williams last week nor would she be surprised to upset No. 5 Lindsay Davenport today.

On a day when there were no Williams sisters on display -- Serena was off, Venus gone home to Florida -- no one seemed to miss the flamboyant Americans who were still ruling the WTA Tour last year at this time.

Davenport, 28, a 1999 Wimbledon champion, eliminated Vera Zvonareva, 6-4, 6-4, then smiled when she spoke about the youngsters.

When she was that age and new to the pros, Davenport said, "I was probably a little bit nervous. But I was never one that played tennis to be on Centre Court and have people look at me and all that stuff. I played tennis and I just happened to do well."

Golovin needed only 12 minutes to finish off her 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 third-round win over Emmanuelle Gagliardi. Her fourth-round match with Serena Williams will be only her second shot at a top-10 player.

"Playing Serena is going to be amazing," Golovin said. "I'm just really excited."

Sprem moved into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal with a 6-4, 6-4 upset of 21st-seeded Maleeva, and Sharapova, who was a French Open quarterfinalist, made it two in a row with her 6-4, 7-5 win over 31-year-old Amy Frazier. Frazier's hard, flat, line-kissing ground strokes gave Sharapova some trouble though.

"Sometimes, when people are on a roll and they can't miss, there's nothing really you can do until you just wait and be positive and not get down on yourself, try to think what maybe you can do a little bit different," Sharapova said.

She can also wait for double faults. Frazier offered up 12 of those, including one on set point in the second set.

Like Davenport, Sharapova learned many of her tennis fundamentals in Southern California from Robert Landsdorp. Davenport, who will play Sharapova in the semifinals if Davenport beats Sprem and Sharapova beats Ai Sugiyama, says she feels as if she's seeing her double sometimes when she watches the young Russian.

"You can see it in the way she hits deep and flat," Davenport said. "You can tell right away, she's from Robert."

Because of last week's rain, the women in the top half of the draw are a round behind. The winners of Davenport-Sprem and Sharapova-Sugiyama will have a day off Wednesday but those at the top, including Williams and Jennifer Capriati, who plays Nadia Petrova today, could also be on the court Wednesday and Thursday.

Sprem had been hoping for a day off today. She turned an ankle in practice Sunday and worried about the pain she felt Monday. Davenport also has been concerned about her own balky knee these last two weeks.

"Today was definitely the most physical match I've had and the most I've had to run so far," Davenport said. "It felt really good. It's been responding well."

Kind of like the teenagers. Feeling good. Responding well.

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