Can Sharapova cap comeback with Wimbledon win?

LONDON - Maria Sharapova was just 17 years old when she scored a stunning upset in the Wimbledon finals against veteran Serena Williams in 2004.

But the past few years have been a struggle - at least, on the court.

And when Sharapova takes center court Saturday for the Wimbledon finals, it will mark her biggest match in three years, reports former pro tennis player Justin Gimelstob, a commentator for the Tennis Channel.

Sharapova and Kvitova reach Wimbledon final

She's just 24, but a return to the top seemed an almost unreachable goal for Sharapova, and the idea of winning a second Wimbledon title, a distant dream.

Her semifinal match Thursday got off to a shaky start but, despite 13 double faults, the Russian tennis star beat Germany's Sabine Lisicki in straight sets.

Saturday's match will be Sharapova's first Grand Slam final since she won the Australian Open in 2008.

Then, shoulder surgery threatened to end her career. And she's struggled with her serve ever since.

But Sharapova has continued to captivate crowds as she claws her way back.

Dozens of endorsement deals bring her an estimated $25 million dollars a year, and she's even planning her own line of candy, to be called Sugarpova."

As the highest-paid female athlete in the world, Sharapova is also one of the most popular. And in a sport known for teen sensations, many fans are hoping her seven-year battle to get back to the top will end with a win Saturday.

She's said the victory would mean more to her than any other in her career but, says Gimelstob, she has a very tough opponent in Petra Kvitova, a 21-year-old newcomer not too dissimilar to what Sharapova was in 2004 -- a very talented left-handed Czech player who hits the ball very hard.

The final, says Gimelstob, will be "all about nerves. (Sharapova's) going to be dealing with nerves on one side because she has expectations and the match means so much to her. Kvitova has never been there before. She's never been to a Grand Slam final. She got to the semis in Wimbledon last year. Whoever starts better and handles the pressure better will lift the championship Saturday night."

Despite her huge income, Sharapova's still battling because she's "such an incredible competitor," Gimelstob adds. "She has always been substance-over-style. She's one of the best competitors in sports, man or female.

"She has an incredible work ethic, and nothing means more to her than winning. And that is why she is back.

"There's also a little bit of a power vacuum in the women's game.

"She's overcome nerves on her serve, and this victory would mean more than anything else."

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