Marketable Maria Key Player in Priory's Cause; TENNIS: AEGON CLASSIC: Next Week, Edgbaston Priory Hosts What Is Expected to Be the Final Classic Tournament in a Sequence Stretching Back to 1982. Tennis Correspondent Brian Dick Reports

The Birmingham Post (England), June 3, 2009 | Go to article overview

Marketable Maria Key Player in Priory's Cause; TENNIS: AEGON CLASSIC: Next Week, Edgbaston Priory Hosts What Is Expected to Be the Final Classic Tournament in a Sequence Stretching Back to 1982. Tennis Correspondent Brian Dick Reports


Byline: Brian Dick

If this is to be the last Classic held in Birmingham it could not have a more fitting send-off as Maria Sharapova, the Queen of Edgbaston, is back at her pre- Wimbledon bolt-hole from where she launched an entire career.

It was as an ungainly 16-year-old that the Russian mega-star reached the semi-finals at Edgbaston Priory, her first on the senior tour, after coming through qualifying and beating top seed Elena Dementieva en route.

A week later the Siberian capitalised on a wild card into Wimbledon and ousted then world No 12 Jelena Dokic on the way to the fourth round where she took Svetlana Kuznetsova to three sets.

It was a stunning breakthrough and from being just another Bollettieri Clone with a big forehand, loud shriek and an agoraphobia that kept her anchored to the baseline, the youngster became an instant headline maker.

But that was only the beginning and Sharapova, or Masha to her friends and family, went two better the following year. Now at No 15 in the rankings she delighted the Priory with a sparkling sequence of five wins that brought the Maud Watson trophy, her first title on grass.

A second and a maiden grand slam would follow a fortnight later as Sharapova put out four seeds including Serena Williams on the highest stage of all. The only thing that didn't work out on that sun-kissed July afternoon was the mobile phone reception. Like the rest of the world Sharapova's mother would have to watch her daughter enjoy her proudest moment on screen.

Thankfully the family's telecommunications equipment is far more reliable these days and - in tennis terms at least - Yelena Sharapova need only open a magazine or switch on a television set to see her only child smiling back.

Those cameras will be trained on the intimate environs just off Sir Harry's Road next week where Sharapova will try to continue her comeback from a shoulder injury that has cost her nearly ten months of her blue-chip career.

It will be a welcome retreat for the 22-year-old who has always flourished in Birmingham and who has compiled a record of 23 wins from her 26 matches, with two championships in the process.

For Sharapova if there is a place to launch a Wimbledon campaign, this is it..

And how Edgbaston would love that.

With so much uncertainty about the future of the tournament nothing would do more to boost their cause than a strengthening of their connection with the world's most marketable sportswoman.

As things stand this year's tournament will be the 28th and last as the event is set to be moved to another venue.

The Lawn Tennis Association announced last year their intention to put the competition out to tender.

Edgbaston Priory found the future demands contained w i t h i n the brief to be too exact- ing, to the d e tr i- ment of their members. However, a decision on the new home was due at the start of the year and in a climate of whispers and darkness rumours that this may not be the last night, have begun to mushroom.

The LTA won't say anything, the club give optimistic rather than bullish briefings so we wait and work on the basis that this is indeed the swansong. …

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Marketable Maria Key Player in Priory's Cause; TENNIS: AEGON CLASSIC: Next Week, Edgbaston Priory Hosts What Is Expected to Be the Final Classic Tournament in a Sequence Stretching Back to 1982. Tennis Correspondent Brian Dick Reports
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